Clicking through Cyberspace I happened upon Scriv’s first blog entry at Fast Company. In his inaugural post, “Did we ever remember design?”, Paul argues that companies continue to ignore the success of tech titans like Apple and Nintendo and, seemingly, suffer for it.
When it comes to design, every year is the same. You will see articles upon articles extolling the virtues of design and how companies can benefit by putting more emphasis behind it and what happens? The same companies innovate while other companies think they can overpower the competition through features and marketshare.
I don’t think that’s true. In the last fifteen years that I have managed and studied business I’ve seen more companies add design as an important part of their planning, manufacturing, and marketing processes. As consumers have made it clear that design is an important criteria in their purchase making decisions a lot of companies have paid attention and acted accordingly. Of course not everyone values design with the same intensity as Apple or, say BMW. A large, large majority of businesses simply can’t afford to throw money around like these two can because their products don’t sell at premium price points. That said there are companies who can, and have, thrown money at design and yet they still don’t succeed as well because they’re trying to make bad products simply look good like Dell or Ford. In their case design isn’t the issues, lack of innovation is.
More features and market share aren’t necessarily a negative. Just as there are customers who see design as being important there are others who specifically look for more features. Even Apple knows this otherwise why would they spend so much time, effort, money, and space for listing every product feature possible for every product they sell. And If I could trounce IBM in the web services game because I had more market share than they did, you can bet your ass I would—bigger, faster, cheaper, smarter.
I wil not talk about Apple in this entry because there will be plenty more times when I bring them up in this column, but can you argue their magical turnaround at the beginning of the century was something else besides pushing out quality designed products? We learn the same lessons from Apple and Nintendo every year, yet companies don’t seem to ever take notice.
While Apple’s added sex appeal definitely helped sell more products that’s not the sole reason for Apple’s turn around. Trimming the product line from thirty-five different models to four saved many-millions of dollars in manufacturing, inventory, and marketing costs while making it easier for consumers decide which product to buy. Job’s crusade to end fruitless research and development projects that didn’t have solid commercial potential also saved a lot of money and therefore had a hand in Apple’s turn around. It was good, solid management combined with channeled innovation and street smarts saved Apple. Candy colored plastic just helped them look good doing it.
Now, here’s something to remember: Companies like Apple or Nintendo “win” because they innovate. They make products that work, function, look, and feel better than their competitor’s. Design is but one step in that process, not the champion.