Buying in a Design Centric World

WHY DESIGN INFLUENCES OUR BEHAVIORS 

I’ve never considered myself to be a beauty junkie—I only spend the minimum amount needed to keep my aging skin at bay. I’m mostly influenced by my attraction to a brand’s aesthetics and, occasionally, by a friend’s testimonial. A couple of years ago, I was introduced, via Instagram to a direct-to-consumer beauty brand with IMO great design. Over the last two years, I’ve slowly been swapping out all of my existing beauty products not because I believe them to be better or work better, but because I am visually attracted to the design of the product, the packaging, and the fact that I really love pink. 

There was a time when you simply came up with a product or service the world needed, then offered it for sale. But no longer. The world has changed in many ways, largely due to social media. We are now living in a “design centric world” and are more visually oriented than ever before. We upload and share a staggering 1.8 billion photos each day on social media in hopes that we catch the attention of existing and potential customers. For a business to be successful in a design-centric world, needs must be contextualized for the visual environment. When we respond to almost anything, the initial point of entry is visual. 

Another relevant example happened a few months ago when I was invited to attend a chocolate tasting. I am by no means a chocolate connoisseur, but the exercise proved to be very educational and enlightening. We started the tasting with a Dove Chocolate bar and noted what we tasted and our overall impressions. As we went on, the chocolate got more exotic, more bitter, and less sweet. One of the bars we sampled was a Ritual Chocolate bar. After we all sampled the bar, the package was passed around for reference. Several of the group members were not familiar with my association to Ritual and I overheard a few conversations—all of which included comments on the beauty of the packaging. I also heard a few people say they had purchased the chocolate from the shelves of Caputo’s and Harmons, a decision not made from having sampled the chocolate but rather due to the beautiful packaging and design, and they wanted to share it as an unwrapped gift.

Apple, the most valuable company in the world, changed the business world when Steve Jobs came back in 1997. His intense focus on the design of products, the user interface, and even the components sealed inside the computer marked the beginning of a corporate recognition of design as a value proposition. Clients come into our office all the time to say they want clean and simple design, like Apple.

Successful companies recognize that offering a product or service that the world needs is not enough. Why? Because our feelings and perception of a company are largely formed by design. That perception can change people’s behavior. And changed behavior drives the performance of your business. This phenomenon is what compels us to pay $12 for a Ritual chocolate bar, $5 for a latte at Starbucks, and spend hundreds more for an Apple versus a Dell laptop, or travel 20 miles farther to stay at an Ace Hotel.

The value of design is recognized in the business world and is evidenced constantly in business publications. But it isn’t just about aesthetics. Rather, it is a far more serious matter of problem-solving and experience shaping. The principles of design can be used to change how people work, to better understand customer needs, and to reframe complex problems. These efforts lead to insights that constitute strategic competitive advantages.

As a brand design firm, we have long understood and fought for the value of good design. A late 2018 study by McKinsey and Company can finally put those advantages to real numbers based on their survey and analysis on over 300 different companies. McKinsey claims the report contains “the most extensive and rigorous research undertaken anywhere” to map the business impact of design. It concludes that firms who embrace design generated 32 percentage points higher revenue growth as well as 56 percentage points more total returns to shareholders compared to their rivals during a five-year period.

“While design was once largely thought of as a way of making products more attractive, it is now a way of thinking: a creative process driven by the desire to better understand and meet consumer needs,” said McKinsey. Those advantages show up as real numbers, and “Good Design is Good for Business”.

Over the last 10 years, design-led companies (such as Coca-Cola, Ford, Herman-Miller, IBM, Intuit, Nike, Starbucks, Starwood, Steelcase, Target, and Walt Disney) have maintained a significant stock market advantage, outperforming the S&P by an extraordinary 211%.

Design is where the rubber meets the road. That’s where we make the emotional connection and generate an “I gotta have it” (at any cost) mentality on the part of customers. To be successful in a design-centric world, companies need to embrace design culture and allow design values and philosophies to guide the way people work, interact, and present themselves to the world.