Design Matters. Design Adds Value

So often I work with director-level to senior executives on product ideation (focused brainstorming) and form always takes a back seat to function. If it's software, the data model and architecture gets 80% of the attention and human factors work (the user interface) gets 20% of the effort.

       Posted by Ben

   

I've worked at companies where the entire development organization — almost at the last minute — says in meetings as the ship date approaches, "…and then we probably should get moving on the user interface" as though the part of the product IN THE USERS' FACE AND WHAT THEY'LL USE DAILY is some sort of afterthought!

ou've also probably purchased products that you wish had gone just a little bit further with product quality. A case in point is my purchase of several headphones to use with Skype. Most are in the $40 range and — after going through three sets with twisty cords and crappy design — I finally spent $80 for a high end Logitech model. Great design, has its own case, and I delight every time I open the case and use the headset.

I love metaphors. When I talk about design importance things like, "…and if design didn't matter in publishing, we'd all be reading courier font text on a white page" or "if design was left up to automotive engineers, they'd be stunned as to why someone would want that good car in blue with a Bose radio instead of focusing on the engine and drive train." But I'm also 100% aware that fabulous design on poorly engineered products fail just as fast if not faster.

The key is balance.

Design matters…and the cool thing is that people will pay more for great design since it brings us more value.

Don't buy the premise? Then read this Harvard Business Review article, "Innovating Through Design: A group of cutting-edge manufacturers in northern Italy interpret items for the home, like lamps and teakettles, in ways that initially confound consumers and then convert them. The result is high growth rates and long product lives."  It discusses how the Michael Graves' designed teakettle — the model 9093 that he knocked off and is delivered as an inexpensive model at Target Stores — has done quite well and the higher quality model is still selling very well.

Target understands trend. My bride, Michelle Lamb, was educated in trend over 20 years ago while at Target and since has become the world leading trend forecaster in home furnishings. No other mass merchant understood trend better and were thus able to coordinate and orchestrate the goods buyers would purchase for the stores…and they made sure they stocked what people wanted to buy.

At some point in the last decade, Target realized that they could drive trends instead of simply determining what they were, hoped manufacturer's were building the right product, and that they could stock those goods. As a result, Target now has entire sections devoted to affordable yet world-class designed goods that consumers are demanding (and Walmart, the retailer of cheap and ill-designed goods, has been suffering because of it and the poor merchandising of their stores).

Now back to software and design. It matters. People want to experience beauty and attractiveness and well designed software and user interfaces can, if laid out correctly, provide just such an experience. Look at Apple and Mac OS X. I'm still stunned that my 93 year old father-in-law, my 80 year old Dad, my non-technical staff and dozens of others I know are using unix every day! Why is that? Incredible design, elegance in the delivery, and a balance between function and form.

So when you approach delivering a Web site, community offering or any information technology product (heck…any product), make sure you balance the "brushstrokes" (front end design) with the "keystrokes" (back end coding). Otherwise, you're automatically devaluing what you're delivering.

 

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