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Good design solves problems; poor design costs companies
When it comes to picking a tech partner, so much weight is given to technology—and rightly so. Your app or system needs to work flawlessly, keeping up with all the tools and techniques that ensure your customers can do whatever they need to, and wherever possible, without even thinking about it.
The same goes for how each associate organization manages their operations. Customer service is huge amongst today’s Trustpilot and social media generations. It’s so easy for consumers to complain when a vendor or service drops even the tiniest ball in any mass market.
We’ve become accustomed to ranking providers on innovation, but as time ticks by, we’ve been shown by some of the most prominent players just how beneficial a part design plays in the process.
Apple led us all down an incredibly sexy design path
Possibly, one of the few markets where design has always been part of the product, presentation, and marketing before Apple made it an art form was the luxury sports car market. Ferrari, Porsche, Lamborghini, Jaguar, McLaren, and many more—all beautiful to look at and brilliant to drive; design and innovation beautifully bundled.
And now? Well, so is your Mac (dare I say, compared to your Windows PC). The latest must-have iPhone has become the ‘poor man’s sports car’ (although there is an abundance of alternative manufacturers hot on their heels).
Nobody can deny them; Apple showed us how design should lift a product and push it into the stratosphere. It wasn’t just what was in the box. It was the box. The bag. The way the product worked. The way the business worked—everything from how your tech felt in your hand to what happened when it didn’t. The whole operation was beautifully designed to give the customer an exceptional experience—just like their Porsche (when you're not stuck on the hard shoulder of the M6).
Okay. So before this starts to sound too much like a fan-boy ad, I’ll get back to the point.
Design matters, and in the current climate, it matters more than ever. So whose job is it to make sure that part of the process has every drop of detail and delight squeezed out of it?
“Product design, we’d like you to meet your new partner in crime—UX.”
Once upon a time, designers predominantly made things look pretty. As time went by and consumers started to expect more, manufacturers started testing designs against each other in focus groups. Later still, they took hard data from more technical testing, and designers had hard limits to work towards.
User experience design (UXD) is a must in every design project. But whose job is it to make sure UX hits all the right buttons? Designers? Programmers? Investors? Manufacturers? Is it still an overlooked entity, or does it hold the power it deserves for a product to reach its best potential?
Back to the original question: should investors show more interest in design?
We think so, yes; the value of design should be common sense by now. However, according to some telling McKinsey & Company research into how design affects the bottom line, their ‘Business Value of Design’ study revealed that over 40% of existing companies still don’t engage with the end-user during development. Start-ups are far more adept with prototyping and iterative learning, using data and AI to tune their products into their markets via their test users.
To become part of the top percentile of design performers, McKinsey showed that design needs to be analytically and data-led, that UX is front and centre, have top talent deliver it, and finally, test and tweak with real users over and over along every step.
As an investor, then, if the organizations you’re partnering with aren’t already on this conveyor to their best-bet product, we’d suggest it’s your job to make sure they change their ways if they’re going to join the winning teams.
When even the most mighty fall…
Let’s face it; Apple wasn’t on top from its inception; it took a lot of work, and at one point, in 1997, bankruptcy for the tech giant looked inevitable. Unsurprisingly (for an article of this ilk), it was at the time Jobs spotted the talents of Jony Ive (or, Sir Jonathan Ive KBE, HonFREng RDI, if you’d prefer), the British designer responsible for leading the charge of Apple as design masters, that the tables swung so hard.
Even the most prevalent in the industry have had their moments. Google, who seems to own half of the world right, has blundered brilliantly in its time, as have Amazon and Apple.
Google has made four attempts (so far) into social networking: Google Buzz, Google Friend Connect, Orkut, and finally Google+. Not the snappiest branding at any stretch for any of them.
Google+ sharing was a little confusing with its concept of circles. As we all know, when it comes to firing out our feels into the SM stratosphere, we want to do as little thinking as possible. However, with more accessible and busier platforms already available, the poor UX attempt from Google led them towards low numbers, and let's face it, when it comes to social media, we go where the masses go.
Without anything superior or attractive enough to persuade users to switch allegiance, it was only a matter of time before they’d pull the plug on their sinking ship.
Apart from the $1,500 price tag being quite the hindrance, Google Glass didn’t look like anything anyone would want to wear.
With voice commands and information displaying directly in the users’ field of vision, this product certainly appeared to be the future of AI wearables. Nobody could deny that the tech involved wasn’t remarkable, but if nobody was willing to be seen in them, well, that doesn’t deliver sales, does it? And after only a year of such, they came off the market in 2015.
Despite being one of the most financially successful tech monsters the world ever made, Microsoft missed the target by a country mile with Zune, a portable music player to rival Jobs and Ive’s iPod.
Why was it so bad? For starters, MS was way too late to the party. Second, it didn’t do anything the iPod didn’t, and it didn’t do it as well. Design is about solving problems, as we’ve said, and Zune didn’t solve anything that wasn’t already being done better elsewhere.
Amazon Fire Phone
Having established the first generation of Fire tablets in 2011, playing only second fiddle the iPad by 2012, a phone built on the same principles and OS should be a sure-fire hit, shouldn’t it?
Again, the tech in the phone was groundbreaking with four front-facing cameras tracking user movement, creating a 3D type perspective UI.
However, as much as the critics praised parts of the package, they slated the design and build and the Fire OS version of Android it ran on. With $170 million losses, it was discontinued shortly after production ended in 2015.
Apple delivered a handheld PDA in 1993 with handwriting recognition. Designed to convert notes into text, surely, it should have revolutionized business operations and operator behaviour. Rumour has it Jobs was quoted to say, “God gave us ten styluses… let’s not invent another.”
So for the Newton, after $100 million of investment, it was game over.
What can’t Apple do? Well, games consoles, it seems. Would a machine with the established Apple Mac architecture make a great games console? Sadly, no. Apple tried to push the device as a multi-purpose gaming, browsing, and educational machine, yet of the 100k units produced, only 42k of them sold. It just couldn’t compete with how well the Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation looked, worked, and felt.
Let’s put the beautifully designed shoe on the other foot
A further study by Jaakko Aspaera uncovered the benefits of utilizing design to boost the influence of investors in the stock market.
Design encourages investors, it appears, due to personal relevance to the company or its product on an emotional level and also the general professional appeal of the company and its product. In other words, they have a connection to the product because they can see it as part of their life, as an activity or interest. Secondly, they buy into the organization because they appear professionally trustworthy.
Investing in the stock market is all about success, judged on earnings and profit.
Aspaera says of the financial return:
“Specifically, the results suggest that one’s liking for a company’s product design (in the form of affective evaluation of the design) has direct positive effect on one’s optimism concerning the company’s financial returns when the company is considered as an investment target. This effect makes one’s liking for a company’s product design logically a factor that increases an investor’s investment willingness.”
So, design influences investor and consumer behaviour—heavily. If, as an investor, you’ve made that leap and invested your hard-earned in the next big thing, shouldn’t you make sure that the design that got you interested flows through to the product you’re hoping will build your empire and your bank balance? But more than that, make sure it ticks all the testing boxes, proves itself with hard user data, and at every step from design to delivery?