In an excerpt from their new book, Predictable Magic: Unleash the Power of Design Strategy to Transform Your Business published by Wharton School Publishing (July, 2010), featured by BusinessWeek Innovation Insider, Deepa Prahalad and Ravi Sawhney write about how design can help consumers forge emotional connections to products and brands. To check out this issue, sign up for email alerts from BusinessWeek Innovation Insider, and obtain magazine subscription information, please click here.
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“We’re tired of talking about strategy,” is a comment we hear with increasing frequency. “We know what the competition is doing; we know the trends. Can you please just show us the designs?” This frequent request confirms the growing importance of design in corporate strategy and the changing nature of competition. Today, competition is no longer just about creating insight to guide strategy; it is also about demonstrating that insight in superior designs.
Great companies have always been in the design business, whether they say so explicitly. Creating new products, services, and experiences—and emotional connections in the process—is key to the growth of companies and brands. These connections are not a matter of a single aesthetic, but a way of understanding the needs and aspirations of consumers. Design today must carry through from a corporate philosophy about consumer experience to inform strategy and implementation.
As Plato once said, “The beginning is the most important part of the work.” The starting points of the design process have a powerful impact on the final outcome. Understanding the emotional triggers for different consumers should be an explicit goal of stakeholders from the outset. Otherwise, the dynamics within companies and in the marketplace can make adoption elusive regardless of the merits of a new concept. Therefore, the challenge of adopting a new concept is not only to overcome trained behavior but also to motivate new behavior. Design isn’t the biggest part of what designers do; it’s simply their tool to create cause and effect.
And, it isn’t about how the consumers feel about the design; it is all about how the design makes them feel about themselves. Design strategy succeeds when it can address the emotional needs—and hurdles—of consumers as it delivers on quality, function and price. That said, companies can radically reduce time to market and mitigate risk by focusing on just a few priorities:
• Reduce complexity?
Few companies can innovate by collecting more demographic data, financial projections or anecdotal information. To be clear, we are not suggesting that data should be ignored; however, in the absence of a consumer context, the data can provide distraction without direction.
• Establish the consumer experience as the basis of collaboration?
Framing the design process in the context of the consumer breaks down organizational silos and allows everyone the opportunity to participate. Everyone is a consumer and can contribute insight about how the user experience can be improved. Understanding how empowerment varies among personas and evolves over time can help to create priorities and inform design and investment decisions.
• Use maps to guide the way
?Mapping products and personas in terms of needs, desires and aspirations fuels the design process with clarity and empathy from the outset. This is not only a powerful tool for understanding how to appeal to consumers, it can also shape the debate about trade-offs that are an inherent part of implementation. Deep consumer insight can reveal whether what is being eliminated is the equivalent of trimming a toenail of removing a vital organ. The visual understanding provided by Psycho-Aesthetics® mapping can provide a reality check and a benchmark throughout the design and innovation process.
There is no ideal location on the map that companies must drive toward. The direction should be determined by the needs of consumers and the company’s strategy. There are cases of highly profitable and well-loved companies in every quadrant. What they have in common is an ability to see where there is a disconnect between the offerings in the market and the desires of consumers, and create winning designs to bridge the gap.
• Aim for a compass, not a GPS?
Identifying the Opportunity Zone can increase the chances of success by focusing a team’s attention on a finite number of priorities. These form the basis for experimentation during the design process. The idea is to provide a clear direction but allow freedom to all parties to generate different approaches.
Reflecting on the cases that we’ve covered thus far, we can reflect on the role that the design played in moving each company toward its strategic objectives. All the efforts helped the companies connect (or reconnect) with consumers as they delivered financial results. Psycho-Aesthetics enables companies to understand how markets and consumers are evolving, but it can also be a valuable forensic tool. The Opportunity Zone can be anywhere on the map—depending on industry dynamics.
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Deepa Prahalad is an author, business strategist and consultant specializing in opportunities at the intersection of consumer experience, technology and strategy. Passionate about emerging markets and innovation, she began her career researching how to improve efficiency in UN procurement and later moved to Singapore to become a commodities trader with Cargill. Prahalad has worked with firms from start-ups to large multinationals and has been RKS Design’s global insights leader since 2008.
As the founder and CEO of RKS Design, Ravi Sawhney has spent more than thirty years at the forefront of product and technology innovation, and has grown his industrial design consultancy into a global leader in the fields of strategy, innovation and design. While leading RKS, Sawhney has helped generate more than 150 patents and over 90 design awards on behalf of his diverse list of international clients, and his work has been featured on the cover of Business Week’s best product design issue. Sawhney invented the predictable Psycho-Aesthetics® design methodology, which Harvard Business Press adopted as a business school case study before it grew in popularity to become a central focus of Predictable Magic.