In late January I wrote an article entitled “First Impressions Matter” which introduced a book I had purchased on a whim, something that doesn’t occur very often. The book was called “Do You Matter” and what prompted me to make the impulse purchase was the bold cover and the appearance of quality, at least visually, on the cover and throughout the book. I had promised in the earlier article that after reading this book I would report back and share my impressions of this book, and if the content was consistent with the impressive visuals throughout. For my first impressions of this book and what led me to the purchase, refer to the above referenced article.
Generally I have found that first impressions often have a flash in the pan effect, meaning that great visuals and cover artwork mask poor content. Sometimes I will come across something that appears stunning from afar, but as I get closer, the flaws become apparent, furthermore, upon detailed inspection it may be downright hideous and deceptive. This is usually a consistency issue, where part of a product is excellent, only to mask an underlying inferiority. When this occurs I become disappointed, and feel deceived by marketing – although as I gain more experience this occurs less often.
This is not the case with “Do You Matter?”. “Do You Matter” is one of those books that is amazing from beginning to end, and amazingly consistent – it was truly difficult to put down – given that the book is 214 pages, this was no easy feat. Obviously the authors put quite a bit of work into making this book, I am truly impressed. Basically the book is about the importance of industrial design and how it can transform a product and/or entire organization if given enough weight and importance. For those uninitiated with the term industrial design, it is basically the intangibles of a product or company – the aspect that makes it truly unique. Functionality is one aspect however it generally runs much deeper than how a product works – it is generally associated with the look and feel, the overall experience of using a product or dealing with an organization.
Industrial design is most associated with the design language of a product. Using automobiles as an example, let’s say BMW. BMWs have a distinct look that one can identify without even seeing the logo or brand. The headlights, tail lights, shaping of the hood, and rear end, they are all purposefully distinct and are all subtly communicated across the brand product lines. Brands, especially high-end brands, use design language to communicate with consumers. For a video on BMW design language, click here.
Another example of industrial design is the distinct look of the iPhone. The way the device looks, the ease of use, everything is purposeful. The iPhone is not merely a device for making and receiving phone calls or playing on the Internet, it is a work of art that provides the user with an experience – this is the essence of industrial design – providing the user or consumer with a unique experience.
My first experience with industrial design was during a stint with a commercial start-up company in the Boston suburbs which developed high technology handheld devices. Prior to this I had been involved mostly in Defense Department product development efforts where form, fit, and function were emphasized, as well as “faster, better, cheaper”, with literally no attention being paid to industrial design. At the commercial start-up company the project manager had purposefully brought on an industrial design firm very early in the project, even prior to conceptual design as part of the product development team. The industrial design firm brought a certain trendiness to our product and made us stand out from the competition. In addition, the input from the industrial design firm made our product easier to use and forced us to consider certain design aspects early in the project – the point where it is least expensive to consider such things, where we could design in beauty and usability with minimal impact to technical performance, cost, or schedule.
Another area where I had come across industrial design was in Tom Peters’ book, “Re-Imagine!” which I have quoted on at least a few occasions on this blog. In “Re-Imagine” Peters discusses the importance of having a designer, artist, or someone with a non-technical background who is versed in the arts on the design team. He discusses that although their value may not be apparent at each point of the project, they are critical to adding a design-eye to the project and getting the members of the technical team dislodged at certain points where they are stuck. Getting the team “unstuck” at pivotal moments is generally worth much more than the expense of bringing on someone with this background to the project. Anyone who has read or even just looked at this book will notice that the design of “Re-Imagine” is very distinct, and likely had some artistic or design influence.
It is obvious that “Do You Matter” was created by those highly involved in the field of industrial design, Robert Brunner was the Director of Industrial Design at Apple and Stewart Emery was involved in MasterCard’s “priceless” campaign. This book is truly a work of art and once I had finished reading it and moved on to other books – it was truly difficult for other works to measure up. Once you read a book that has been designed purposefully well, it is apparent that most others are not. A well designed book is a breeze and a pleasure to read, just like a well designed product is easy and a pleasure to use. It continues to amaze me how many marketing books miss the mark and are not designed well – they are not practicing what they preach!
A few years ago a colleague and I were having a conversation on design ignorance. At the time I was ignorant to design and he was explaining the concept to me. He had compared design ignorance to a person’s first car. At the time my first car felt perfect – I was just happy to have a vehicle at that point in my life – I was ignorant to the flaws. Years later when I was able to purchase a European automobile, I noticed the flaws of the previous car – the cramped interior, the lackluster display, the non-contoured external shape. Once I owned a superior product, I was no longer ignorant to the design.
This is another key aspect of industrial design – people are generally ignorant of it’s presence unless they experience it directly or their attention is purposefully drawn to it. Try it sometime – begin looking at various brands, in this instance cars, and notice the trends and the type of emotions that these trends invoke.
Do You Matter?
This book asks a simple yet profound question – Do You Matter? Let’s put some context around it. Do you matter to your customers? Does your product matter to consumers and to the overall marketplace? Do you matter as an individual? Most would answer “yes” to these questions as they are emotionally committed to themselves, their companies, and their products – and rightfully so. However this answer is obviously biased.
This book provides an interesting context and asks such questions as:
1. What would happen if your company or product were no longer available?
2. What would happen if your product was no longer available to the market, and your company went out of business?
3. Would anyone (besides you) care?
Take a moment and seriously think about the preceding questions. These sorts of questions are along the lines of the old philosophy of what would you be remembered for if you died tomorrow, but is focused on your company and products.
This question made me think – not only about myself, my company, and service offerings, but about others whose products I use. Honestly there are not many that I would truly care about if they went away – another competitor would likely appear to offer another product – these types of products are mainly commodities. But one thought I had was, what if a brand I truly cared about – say Apple went out of business and their products were no longer readily available or supported? Would I care?
About two years ago I would not have – I did not use one Apple product and quite honestly did not understand the hype around the brand and its products. However that changed when I purchased my first iPod, which led me to a MacBook Pro, and later to an iPhone, and eventually to a slew of accessories and software. Although I still own iPods, I no longer use them as the iPhone more than meets my needs for music, and allows me to carry just one device. My MacBook Pro and iPhone, and all the accessories that support the two devices are fully entrenched in my life – I view them as not only a product, but as a way of life, and a way of making a stylish statement. So presently I would certainly care if Apple went out of business – so they matter, their products and as a company. Will Apple continue to matter? Only time will tell, but to date they are on the right track.
But what makes Apple matter to me? My opinion is that it is their industrial design and design language. Their unique designs take otherwise boring devices – computers and music players and transforms them into unique experiences – experiences that I, and many others, are willing to pay a premium for. If Apple went away, it would truly be life changing. This may sound extreme, but consider if all of a sudden your iPhone were no longer available – it would surely change your life.
But what about other products and companies? Do they matter? In my opinion there are few that really matter. Some products, and therefore companies, mattered to me in the past, but their quality slipped over time and they lost sight of their core values and brand, and in my opinion they ceased to matter. In some instances another provider had taken their place and then they “mattered” to me, and in other cases the void was just filled by another commodity and I truly did not care and therefore it did not matter.
As mentioned in a previous article three of my favorite brands are Apple, Barnes and Noble, and Starbucks, these brands matter to me now due to an unique combination of product and service. As previously mentioned in this article, Apple appears to be on the fast track, I feel that Barnes and Noble is consistent in that I always have the same experience regardless of location and am satisfied with the selection and service. Starbucks is fine to date, however their entry into the instant coffee segment with the introduction of their Via line may change this over time. Only time will tell for all three brands. At the time of this article, all three matter to me.
As many products become a commodity, design and the overall consumer/user experience are the only true differentiators. People will pay a premium for premium or exclusive service for a common product. Hotels are a great example of this – they all offer the same function, however consistent service at a certain level is the true differentiator that keeps me coming back to some, and not staying at others. “Do You Matter” discusses the importance of designing your product or service at some length, to create a truly unique experience for your customers which will keep them coming back.
A Time For Introspection
At this point you should look inwards. Do you matter? If so, that is great, but consider how you can strengthen your products or services to matter more. What is unique about your business and product/service offerings? Why do consumers purchase your product or service? Could a competitor easily duplicate what you offer or is it intangible? True value takes time to establish, often years, this is where you want to be. Industrial design stands to strengthen your position, so it is worth at least considering.
If you do not matter, what actions can you take to make you and your offerings matter? Consider your strengths and how you can promote yourself, your business, and your products to make each matter to the marketplace. Promotion should have substance. Just as the book “Do You Matter” was of consistent quality throughout and not just an attention getter, so should it be with you and your business as a brand. Consider how design can make your offering a beautiful experience.
For those interested in learning more about industrial design I highly recommend picking up a copy of “Do You Matter” by Robert Brunner and Stewart Emery. I plan on deepening my knowledge of this subject matter by reading more and will pass along this knowledge to my readers here at this blog – I invite you to do the same.
Do you matter?