The Power of Design


Think design is not important to your business? Think again. Design may be the only thing separating you from success. Or failure. In a world where, increasingly, all things are similar, it may be the last great differentiator.

Design, like it or not, is all around us. It’s in everything we touch, everything we come in contact with. Whether the design is by the forces of nature or by human intervention. And it’s either design we love or design we hate. 

In Tom Peters’ book design, Peters draws the conclusion, “Design is the principal difference between love and hate. It’s not about “sorta."”

Good design is why you love a brand, and bad design is why you hate it. It’s why you LOVE it, or why you HATE it. It’s not “sorta” somewhere in between. Design evokes passion, loyalty and dare I say, repeat business.

Good design has two components: emotional and rational. Twenty years ago, our parent company, Bernstein-Rein, coined the phrase “Brand Humanity.” The idea being that any successful brand must have an emotional, human element.

Ever wonder why all those magazines at the grocery store checkout have faces on the cover? It’s not by accident. It’s by design. That’s because there’s nothing more interesting to the human psyche than the human face. Think of it as perfect design.

The flip-side to the emotional aspect is the rational. The purposeful. The reason. Great design is based in reason, not gut. Today’s consumers have become too smart to fall for blatantly emotional appeals in this day and age. And design for design’s sake fails as well – when something simply looks good but lacks all reason, purpose and rationale.

Do we all share the same eye for design? No. Do we all have the same aesthetic appreciation? No. Do we all have the same taste? No. And that’s a good thing.

So, if it’s easy, what gets in the way of great design? Or better yet, who gets in the way of great design?

Subjectivity. Behold the Design Committee. They’re a tough group to define, and a tougher act to follow. You won’t find their names on any org chart. They’re moms, dads, husbands, wives, neighbors, friends, secretaries, office workers, janitors and whomever else you can ask, “what do you think about this?”

It’s not bad to get opinions, but it’s crippling to let those opinions define your brand. After all, it’s likely those people were not trained in design, studied color trends and psychology, or necessarily even have an eye for good design. More likely, because you asked, they feel like they need to validate your trust by giving you definitive input—any input—right or wrong.

Research, testing and trained input can be validating. Asking friends is not.

Inconsistency. I once had a client whose marketing department was meticulous about brand standards. It wasn’t until I got a call one day from their Construction Manager asking me for a printout of a logo that I realized the brand cop didn’t patrol the entire company.

“I just need a printout. The sign company can just match from that,” he said.

“What about the brand colors? Don’t you need PMS swatches,” I asked?

“No," he said, “I don’t even like that blue. I’m just going to have him paint it in gray.”

Your brand is every touchpoint your customer comes in contact with—the recording on your phone, the smell as they walk through the door, your logo on your website as it compares to the logo on the shipping order.

Several years back I listened to Jeff Jones, Chief Marketing Officer for Target, give a presentation at the Retail Advertising Convention in Chicago. He was fairly new to the company, young, enthusiastic, and started by saying his goal was for Target to own the color red. I remember thinking at the time, “Wow. He’s cocky. Who owns the color red?”

In two year’s time, Target did. Through consistency, creativity and repetition.

Priority. Good design — great design — has to be a company priority. Process is important. Pricing is imperative. Customer service is critical. Design can’t be an afterthought.

Customers are looking for a better experience. A cleaner, less cluttered path between purchase and bliss. Like everything in this world — a better plan, a better foundation — better design leads to better business.

Without, design is subjective. We are all creative, and we are all artists. But, we’re not all great designers. Or, even good ones.  Lean on the professionals — who are trained to know and live to care. Trust their expertise, direction and insight.

Better design is simply better business.