Sunday, September 15, 2013

"Design," The New Buzz Word in Marketing

October 2013 FAST COMPANY
I just received my new Fast Company magazine and of course had to read it. Not only was I intrigued by the photo of Jony Ive on the cover, who by the way could have shaved for the photo, but by the lure of the awards for design.

Design today is what customer service was yesterday. You know, when you call and you are put on hold for an hour being told that "Your business is very important to us. Please hold and we will be with you in a minute (substitute hour, day, month)" while terrible music slightly out of register plays and a sappy voice reminds you how important you are to them. I once confronted a rep and got him to admit there were only two people on the phones - all day every day. The Indian call centers have far more, you can hear the chatter in the background, but understanding them is another conversation.

So, as the saying goes, you can put lipstick on a pig but its still a pig. Too many businesses still don't get it.

Case in point, I recently purchased a light timer when the one I had finally burned out. It was some GE product that was supposed to give you two settings a day. Easy to use. It sits in the junk bin because neither my wife nor I can program it. The instructions might as well be Greek because I have yet to get it to do anything. I am sure the product designer can set it in a jiffy. The rub is, he never gave it to someone else to try. How many products do we have that behave in the same way? That's why Apple is the world's most valuable company. When you buy one of their products you simply know it will work. If Grandma can use an iPad so can a two-year-old.

So it was with interest that I read about the collaboration of various companies, Burberry, Nike, Pepsico, Jawbone, Samsung and others. With the exception of Burberry or Pepsico I have owned or used their products and would not ever again for precisely this reason, design or failure thereof.

Robert Safarin of FAST COMPANY was insightful when he wrote, "When I arrived at FAST COMPANY I still had an archaic understanding of design. Like many businesspeople, I equated design with tangential aesthetics and fleeting style trends. I was taught that good design is really about problem solving, that it offers a more sophisticated perspective on modern business challenges than traditional spreadsheet-based approaches. He goes on to say that a well designed business - one that delivers customer delight-has a significant competitive advantage. If that was true, WHY aren't they all doing it?

The main article is about Apple and while secretive to NSA standards, they were able to get glimmers of the design process from past employees. Apple has stumbled, we all know that. Jobs was kicked out in 1985 and finally on its death throes brought back in 1997. That it endured that long is a miracle. You have to wonder what the company would have been like if he had remained at the helm those 12 years. On his return many things were tried. However, as the article points out, even the failures went on to create the items we know and love today. They weren't defeated, they learned and continued to innovate. Each newer item got better, was easier to use. They were not afraid to try new things and in fact have been the leader in innovation leading the industry kicking and screaming into the future for years. If Microsoft had their way we would still be using floppies.

My question is, they have recognized 14 companies. Where are the rest? I don't see Ford or AT&T, IBM or Wal-mart, even Microsoft. Even with the companies that were recognized you have to wonder. Writers tend to talk to the CEO's or designers, people intimately involved with the creation of their products. Of course their products are better than sliced bread. Could they say anything else? Their business lives depend on success. I have yet to hear from the man or woman in the street, (no I don't mean TV ads with "real" people) hear their real world experiences with these same products. I do, however, pay attention to friends and acquaintances who talk about a product. Often writers, journalists, artists or whatever talk to themselves so often they can't see the forest for the trees. Remember the Edsel? New Coke? 3D TV? The list goes on and on. These people were so busy talking to themselves they completely missed their audience. As the article points out, when the audience speaks out the results can be brutal. As my wife says, "Every idea is not a good idea." Amen to that.

Design IS important. It literally guides everything that we do. There is no element of our lives that is not designed, not created. If you are an artist, you are designing something. If you are a writer what you write has a mental design in mind...beginning, middle and end. Politicians too are designing the laws we live by. Highways, the TSE, FAA all are created by design that effects us every single day. Yes, design is important however, design for designs sake is "designed" to fail. Design at its very best is problem solving. It seems sadly, there is never an abundance of that.

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