design centric world

Last week we pitched two new clients with a fresh sales presentation titled: “We Live in a Design-centric World”. The premise of the presentation is that the world has changed in many ways. We are more visually oriented now than ever before. We now upload and share a staggering 1.8 billon photos each day. We are creating a world dominated by visual culture—and this impacts business.

There was a time when you simply came up with a product or service the world needed and offered it for sale. But no longer. 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.

Apple, the most valuable company in the world, changed the business world when Steve Jobs came back in 1997. His intense focus on design—of products, of user interface, of 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 and say they want clean, simple design, like Apple.

Successful companies recognize that offering a product or service that the world needs is not enough. Why? Because our perception of a company is 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 $4 for a cup of coffee at Starbucks, spend hundreds more for an Apple versus Dell laptop, or travel 20 miles further to stay at a W Hotel.

The value of design is recognized in the business world, as is evidenced constantly in business publications. But it isn’t just about aesthetics. It is, rather, 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.

Those advantages show up as real numbers. 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. Bringing design in-house though, doesn’t typically lead to great solutions. In my 25 years of experience teaching design at the University of Utah, I know the best designers never seek employment as in-house corporate designers. They invariably choose to work for service providers. Designers need to be managed effectively, but the analytical types that dominate management make it difficult for the right-brained creative voices to be heard and respected.

To be successful in a design-centric world, companies need to embrace a design culture and allow the values and philosophies of design guide the way people work, and interact, and the way they present themselves to world.