Design is a Battlefield

Consumers have developed a taste for design. They choose their services and products based on the desirability, utility and rewards of good design.

Consumers have high design expectations

In a recent Fast Company interview, Frog Design's Hartmut Esslinger - the man behind Apple's original design approach, as well as setting the design agenda for companies such as HP, Seimens, Motorola and GE - described a marketplace with "80% of consumers making their buying decision on design". I don't know exactly where he got this number, but he's a prominent figure in the design world and he's supporting my premise, so I'm going to take it as a good indicator.

Yahoo's redesigned mail service

The idea that consumers are sensitive to the design, UI and UX of the products they use is perfectly exemplified in the wake of Yahoo's recent redesign of Yahoo Mail. These changes have been met with an outcry - like those that accompany most changes to products used by millions of people - of "we don't like change." But louder than the struggles of re-learning how to perform everyday tasks, is an articulate expression of broad consumer understanding and expectations in regards to the products that they use.

Discussions on Reddit demonstrate tangible consumer responses to ephemeral design and performance issues like hidden navigation, coherent keyboard controls and browser load times. Not just how the product looks, but how it works.

Because design is how it works

Design is not merely gloss or decoration. Design shapes science, technology, business and culture into human experiences. Design is the application of empathy, creativity, understanding and reason to create architectures and infrastructures, shape interfaces and communications, and offer solutions to genuine human needs.

Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it’s this veneer – that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.
— Steve Jobs

Nor is design a one-off deliverable. Design informs experiences across many touch points in a customer's journey. From an app on your phone to the retail experience at a store. Branded products and communications are increasingly morphing into ecosystems of services that span across media and environments, change and grow with their users, offer new features and adapt to their behaviours. In this environment of continuous development, design is the unifying voice that creates a sense of coherence and continuity. This means that design must adapt and grow too. Design isn't a compartmentalised process, it's a living part of a business.

Products like the Nest smart thermostat and devices that offer Google's Now service - both products that learn from users behaviours to anticipate desired settings and contextual information - point to a future where the lines between products and services are blurred. In this future unified design strategies will inform form and function across those boundaries. Traditional disciplines of business strategy, service design, product design, industrial design, interface design, are merging and intertwining with Internet services that offer connections to things like social data, trend-spotting algorithms, and recommendation engines.

Google Now. Just the right information, at just the right time, before you even ask.

When I’m working on a problem, I never think about beauty. I think only how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.
— Richard Buckminster Fuller, 1980

Products in today's marketplace need designs that can inform their visual and experiential features, creating a unified brand voice across customer experiences at a variety of touch points. Designers now must be as comfortable creating concepts for systems and facilitating their growth in response to user behaviours as they are creating beautiful interfaces to control them.

Posted on November 2, 2013 .