Business is always looking for ways to make more profits. Traditionally the approach has been to sell more, more often – it has been a push approach to gain more profits. If you have a product or a service and you want to grow your business, then find more customers. This is a “value fit” paradigm where you ask your potential customers to fit into your way of providing value – because it’s probably the way you’ve always done business. Of course some (potentially much) of your market will be O.K. to use the service or product as is. But if you want to increase your profits there are better ways to do it than just looking to push another ‘thing’ onto customers.
The Design Council released “10 ways to profit from design” way back in 2008. But we think it can still offer a thing or two, to business today.
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By Rachel Abrams
“Fancy a 35% increase in sales? Or being able to treble your prices? Do you need to persuade retailers to stock your brands? Whatever business you’re in, thinking differently about design can, Rachel Abrams discovers, transform your company.
1. To add value and differentiate your brand, make design central to your strategy
For a decade, Whirlpool has engaged its employees in a formal innovation process and organisation-wide ‘start-to-finish’ design approach. It draws heavily on consumer and ethnographic research and (after going to market) on robust metrics, to relate design and manufacturing efforts to sales outcomes.
Integrating design, human factors and usability efforts in its Global Consumer Design function controls costs, differentiates its brand and exploits emerging trends across the organisation.
By modifying and improving design and user interfaces, Whirlpool has launched new machines that sell for three times the price of the models they replace.
2. Customers can tell you what they like. A designer can tell you what they will love
Technology might get your brainiac engineers excited, but their enthusiasm may not always be shared by your customers. From CEO Steve Ballmer down, Microsoft knows designers are critical at spotting opportunities, problem-solving, interpreting what people say, and noticing what they actually do.
Once technology-driven, Microsoft now embraces design methods that enable it to uncover users’ needs and translate them quickly into products. Microsoft director of user experience, Brad Weed, says design was once considered a luxury. But it’s no longer a stylistic afterthought: design principles that produce “simple, delightful products” are critical to delivering experiences people want.
3. Ask a designer to help you tell your story
Challs’ popular products unblock drains effectively, yet some supermarket chains were not bothering to stock the brand.
The Suffolk-based company invested more than a year’s profits to clarify the brand positioning of its strongest product. It then worked with award-winning consultancy Elmwood, as part of the Design Council’s Designing Demand programme, to develop a compelling brand story for buyers.
A video presentation that compared Challs’ Kitchen Drain Clear to rival products persuaded supermarkets to take them seriously. Challs’ lines are now stocked in almost all major supermarkets and sales have risen by 35%.
4. If you want to be green and safeguard profits, design the whole system
How can a global sports-clothing company minimise its environmental footprint while maintaining revenues? The Nike Environmental Action Team (NEAT) has spent the past decade figuring out how, by applying intelligent design.
It worked with ‘Cradle to Cradle’ pioneers William McDonough + Partners to design a green campus for Nike’s £45m European HQ in the Netherlands, including toilets flushed with rainwater and an on-site ‘jogging route’ for staff to get around.
A ‘positive list’ of materials to meet targets for recycling included soles eaten by earthworms when discarded.
5. Allign visual identity with corporate values so we all know what you stand for
Seven years ago, the UK Co-operative Movement needed a more modern visual identity, reflecting its values and the relationship between its 35 independent, member-owned retail societies and their 6,500 outlets.
There was no consistency in branding. Many consumers didn’t even recognise the brand and what it stood for.
The organisation’s new visual identity won a silver DBA Design Effectiveness Award in 2007, for bringing myriad businesses ranging from undertakers to travel agents under a single name with a common look and feel.
Business has improved ever since. Former ‘Co-op’ shops with the new identity reported a 6.7% increase in customers.
6. If it ain’t broke, sometimes it pays to fix it anyway
Even if customers are familiar with a product, revamping a brand can make a difference, as Kingsdown Water discovered when it redesigned its bottles.
William Bomer, the mineral water company’s managing director, recognised that the bottle design Kingsdown had been using for six years was starting to look a “little tired”. He felt refreshing its design could open up new revenue streams outside bars and mid-level restaurants.
In collaboration with design consultancy Lewis Moberly, a new, more elegant bottle was brought to market, along with a new brand identity.
Since the rebrand, sales have increased 34% and a number of prestigious venues have placed orders.
7. If customers prefer to rent, design better services rather than goods
Bloggers WorldChanging are big fans of Netflix, which is one of their favourite product-service systems.
The American equivalent to LoveFilm enables subscribers to rent DVDs online and delivers them by post. For an entrepreneur, the Netflix model poses compelling service design questions.
Why own the DVD when you can just rent it? Why own anything you consume if you could just share or borrow it when you need it? Why set up a delivery infrastructure when a perfectly adequate one exists already? What other innovations could piggyback on networks that are already up and running?
WorldChanging envisages a service that downloads a movie without burning it to DVD, making the process even easier.
8. For a niche market, remix what exists
Cyclists are no less fastidious about their outfits than other sports enthusiasts. Functionality comes first, but not looking like a dork is also important. Simon Mottram and Luke Scheybeler realised this, and with design savvy gleaned from their work at user experience consultancy Sapient, founded stylish cycle clothing pioneers Rapha.
Within three years they had developed a business with a £900,000 annual turnover. Integrating design into their business model helped maintain brand identity so they stood out from rivals.
9. Think big, start small, and design within open systems
University of California, Architecture School
Posters for a lecture series were all UCLA’s Architecture School had in mind when it approached New York-based designers The Map Office. Map convinced the school to consider its overall brand and approach identity more strategically.
Map has since produced posters, a ground-breaking website based on the open source Flex program (which means lower costs and easier updates) and a suite of stunning print collateral including a monograph of superstar students and staff.
Inquiries have rocketed so much the school may accommodate 50% more students next year.
10. Treat your customers as your community
The web-based software products company remains relentlessly respectful of its customers’ desire to get things done. 37signals makes “elegant products that do what you need – and nothing that you don’t”. Its simple solutions make light work of managing projects.
37signals is open about its methods. Any lessons it learns are shared online and in print. In turn, customers become its community, while mere subscribers become loyal devotees. Recognising that customers already evangelise on its behalf, the company invites subscribers to become ‘affiliates’ who receive commission if they persuade others to sign up.
Rachel Abrams is a writer and designer and creative director of Turnstone
Article first published in Design Council Magazine, Issue 5, Winter 2008