Today is apparently “post old writing samples” day.
I’m ashamed to admit it, but I’m kind of a pack rat.
I’m constantly collecting things for my growing design library, but lately my un-edited collection was beginning to take over my living room. A few months ago, I had had enough, so I determined to whittle back down to the essentials. As I went through my mountains of stuff, I happened upon the October 2007 issue of Fast Company magazine. I had clearly read the issue before, but I was struck by the cover article (or, I was bored of cleaning) and sat down to reread.
The cover teaser reads “How to Succeed with Style: What Yves Béhar is Teaching Coke, J&J, and Kodak About the Power of Design.” The article by Linda Tischler chronicles Béhar’s rise to superstardom, and not so subtly, albeit without much editorializing, presents Béhar’s view that design is the key to sustainable business success. Indeed, the sidebar labeled “The Seven Axioms of Yves” lays it out pretty plainly.
1. “Design is how you treat your customers. If you treat them well from an environmental, emotional, and aesthetic standpoint, you’re probably doing good design.”
2. “Design must be integrated throughout the organization. Design-driven businesses foster creativity and innovation at their core and reward factions typically at odds (marketing and operations or engineering) for working together.”
3. “Design is not a short term fix. It’s a long-term engagement that requires you to think about how design affects everything that touches the consumer – from product to packaging to marketing to retail to the take-home experience.”
4. “As in marketing or operations, you must be willing to fail at the design level.”
5. “Design must be driven from the top. CEOs in most industries today must have a true relationship with, and understanding of, the creative side of the business.”
6. “With design, the solution to a problem will be different every time. Doing what you competitors are doing is not the answer. The connection to your consumer has to be unique, not formulaic.”
7. “Never ask the consumer about the future. You can ask them what their aspirations are, but you will not get an answer about what you should do. Design will bring those stories to life.”
Apparently, many corporations are paying lipservice to the design/business trend, but few put their money where their mouth is. According to Béhar, only a handful of companies (Apple, Target, P&G, Nike, etc.) truly allow design to infiltrate and shape all aspects of the consumer’s brand contact experience. Béhar is convinced that design-driven brands will leave their competition “in the dust” and a Peer Insight’s 3-year study of more than 40 Fortune 500 companies showed that those with a focus on customer-experience design outperformed the S&P 500 by a 10-to-1 margin from 2000 to 2005.
So, now that we’ve established the gist of the article, I have a few questions/thoughts.
Axiom 6 admonishes us not to attempt to take a cut and paste approach to integrating design. This requires an awful lot of a company that isn’t a category leader. We’ve established that Apple is one of those few superbrands that excels when it comes to design. Indeed, Apple’s multi-touch technology was the first to take the US market by storm – pun intended. In the cell phone category, Research In Motion, those pioneers of the one-handed device approach — the design-based innovation that helped them blow Palm out of the water, just couldn’t get their new Blackberry Storm to market fast enough. Not surprisingly, it fizzled. Korean mfr Samsung had already beaten them to the punch with their parity product the Insight, and with its couple of months’ headstart and plus good marks in consumer reports, the Storm was pretty much forgotten before it even came out. If you’ve seen the lame “unveiling” serial tv spots, you know what I mean. In the first spot, you just barely get a glimpse of the phone’s shape from behind some dude’s shoulder. Then, in the conclusion that aired a few days later, they finally grant us the privilege of viewing the phone. Forgive me, but it looked like a regular old Blackberry with a touch screen tacked on. Absolutely nothing special.
In the computing category, HP made the decision to beat Apple to market with their TouchSmart desktop PC instead of letting Apple navigate the uncharted waters. Far as I can tell, the prescient Steve Jobs has once again let his design nose lead. He knows that rushing that technology to market loses on the risk vs. reward scale, especially when you give weight to the design argument. For the Apple computer consumer, the tech-savvy early adopters likely to use their Macs in design-related professions, touchscreen technology and interfaces are still too clunky. Multitouch is great to use for things like flipping through your iTunes library (I can see how Adobe Bridge could pick up that idea) but it simply doesn’t have much value until they figure out a way to integrate it seamlessly with the usual controls - mouse & keyboard - and allow software developers to figure it into their products. In other words, it would be considered pointless decoration on an otherwise deliberately “less is more” product, which is counterintuitive to the Apple brand psychology. Until Steve is sure he can do it 100x better than HP, I doubt you’ll see an Apple touchscreen desktop on sale.
With competitors on either side, Apple stays true to the brand by both innovating and staying above the fray. So, from the perspective of HP or RIM, how do you follow Béhar’s advice in Axiom 6 and tackle the issue of design when you’re competing with the likes of Apple? It would feel pretty intimidating.