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What comes after good design?

In a world where business’ are actively trying to be different from their competition,  it was a well designed product that used to be the thing that made you stand out from the crowd. But now with ‘Design’ moving into the mainstream of business – where consumers now expect that your product will delight them – its time to move beyond design. In fact – I might be as bold as to say Aesthetics are dead… but not not in the way you might think I mean.

In order to make your customers happy and engage them to purchase more of your value, the current trend has been to design your products so that they are beautiful, usable  have the best technology (or exploit technology like no one else). The chief example has obviously been Apple, and increasingly Samsung.

Apples great strength is widely known as its use of design. Not just the physical look of their products but how their devices and software operate and are interconnected with each other. The company has really combined reduced complexity with sophisticated and attractive looks. This has clearly worked for apple and many of its competitors. In fact many other industries have tried to emulate the company in one way or another. In fact that seems to be a good option for many companies who need a shining leader to follow. But according to some experts in the industry, design has lost its luster and it is time for companies to look for other ways to stand out.

Believe it or not, there was a time – not so long ago when good design was rare in the mainstream markets. It did exist but was usually only practiced by niche and boutique design firms. The greater breadth of companies had to be convinced that it was even necessary to even consider using designers to help them bring products to the market. It was a focus that people love their products, they just didn’t know it yet, so we’ll hire more and more marketers to help them realise it (we don’t have an issue with marketing as an industry, it is invaluable but refer here for our opinion). But now, ‘design focus’ is becoming commonplace globally in the world of business. It was got to a point where we as consumers even think that the new iPhone 5 is boring. It still looks the same and so people have criticised it. Design has become so common place, we now hear 40 something year old house wives defend their latest iPhone purchase as saying – “It’s just so user friendly” (yes… an actual quote from my mother-in-law).

New tools and a broader knowledge base have made it ever easier to achieve good design for companies. In Australia we are slowly feeling this. With the inpending demise of the mining industry and the fall of the manufacturing industry, we are SLOWLY realising that – if you want to broadly reach consumers and aren’t just looking to sell cheap commodities (competing on price), you’ve got to have good, well-designed products and services.

Therefore business has been focusing innovation efforts on design. But what comes after just ‘good design’? We think it is time to raise the bar so to speak. For Australian companies who have been behind the ball in innovating and bringing new value to the market, it is not enough to simply start pumping out well designed products. The market has gone, or is about to!

Business leaders now need to move from design to a more thorough understanding of what consumers want at a deeper level. This deep probing of customer values is where truly radical products and services can be realised and exploited to commercial success. This new area of value creation will be about designing deep value and purpose that gives meaning to a solution – that is then well designed.

The new move beyond great design, aesthetically speaking is therefore to connect to customers; but in ways more meaningful than focus groups and statistical (trend) analysis of the traditional mindset. Increasingly customers want to know that the products they purchase for themselves are ethically made and use responsible materials. Moreover the customer wants to know that this new product or service they are consuming has been made in respect to them and it their best interests – not the businesses.

So it’s almost time to go back to basics in terms of innovation. Focus on the customer, deeply understand them and empathize with their values. Then you can find the everyday problems that they face and develop ‘good-design’ solutions for those real people.

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