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How great design will inspire the next generation of ingenious solutions

Innovation Leader

18 November 2021

This article was first published in Innovation Leader

Today’s business landscape is extremely competitive: products and services must be available as immediately as a need arises, and brands are under constant pressure to innovate and create the boldest options to grab consumers’ attention. To stay ahead of competitors, companies are tasked with delivering beautifully designed, ingenious ideas that inspire action and address needs that often aren’t even apparent yet. The iPhone is a perfect example. Apple didn’t set out to build a better telephone, instead, they delivered an ingenious, hand-held computer that could access the internet and also make phone calls.

But with so much pressure on creating innovative products, how can organizations position design as the guiding force behind meeting and exceeding not just market demands, but human needs? A common reason products fail is that they’re not taking user wants or needs into account. Great design always puts the user first, which is why it’s vital for teams to keep design at the heart of everything.

A top-down and bottom-up approach to great design

To build a culture that leads with design, organizations need to start at the top. When considering individuals for leadership roles, think about their backgrounds and how they relate not only to the role itself, but to the customers they serve. It requires someone who understands users, or at least who understands the real value the organization is trying to provide to its users. Great design understands user challenges and makes lives better in some way.

Guide Beauty is an example of a brand that was created specifically to solve the challenges of an underrepresented group of beauty customers. Guide Beauty’s founder, Terri Bryant, is a makeup artist who began having difficulty using standard makeup applicators due to Parkinson’s disease. She saw an opportunity to fill this gap in the market and created a line of universally-designed tools that improve access for users of all abilities while incorporating a high-end, attractive aesthetic. The inclusive designs have won several awards and recognitions, including the iF Design Award in the User Experience category.

Guide Beauty’s success can largely be attributed to its leadership. Thanks to Bryant’s personal understanding of the challenges faced by disabled makeup users, she’s taken a hands-on approach to design and product development, creating eye-catching products that serve a previously unmet need.

Once organizations have found their design champions, the next step is weaving that customer-centered mindset throughout the firm – including at the board level. To be successful, designers must be present at all phases and levels. The board itself should include designers, and designers should be consulted during each stage of strategy and work. Design needs to be embedded into the very DNA of the brand.

Design and creativity can’t be mandated; instead, they must be allowed to flow naturally. When designers are present at the table, they have the opportunity to spark conversations that lead to world-changing innovations. Guide Beauty is also an example of why diversity is crucial to design success. When you create a culture of inclusion that empowers people to use their own experiences as a launching point, the results meet the needs of a wider audience.

Great brands also understand the importance of not only editing products, but retiring them, to focus on the next big thing. When too much time and talent is spent developing mediocre products, it limits the resources available for truly innovative ideas.

What ingenious brands understand about great design

Ultimately, industry leaders understand that there is no single formula for winning design – it’s all about what works for each organization and its audiences.

Apple and Samsung are a case study of how different brands approach design within the mobile phone market. As of 2021, Apple had just 15 percent of the market share for smartphones, yet was able to capture 42 percent of market revenue.

While Samsung is constantly launching new products, Apple continues to outperform. This is because ultimately, it’s not about the quantity or even the innovative nature of products, but about the statement it makes and the overall role the product plays in the consumer’s life. Whereas Samsung is arguably a more innovative company, Apple is better at anticipating, and perhaps determining, what people will want and rely on in the future.

Great brands also understand the importance of not only editing products, but retiring them, to focus on the next big thing. When too much time and talent is spent developing mediocre products, it limits the resources available for truly innovative ideas.

Leaders need to have the courage to cancel products. Steve Jobs is a great example, canceling everything to focus on the iMac, which saved the company. It takes courage to stop products that make money, but don’t advantage the brand in a competitive way.

Great design requires an “all-in” mentality to succeed. Without adequate resources and the full backing of leadership, even the best designs will struggle to gain market share.

The true purpose of design: Advocating for humanity

For brands to continue to inspire ingenious ideas, they must be design-led; but for lasting success, they must also be purpose-led. What challenges does your organization aim to solve, and how do its products and services support that mission?

Designers need to be human advocates. We’re all consumers and humans first. By putting ourselves and our customers at the center of what we do, we can build solutions that truly benefit everyone. Great design is inclusive. It meets people where they are and anticipates where they’ll go, making their lives better along the way.

At PA, our purpose is bringing ingenuity to life to build a positive human future. In every project, we consider the overall look, feel, and experience of using a product to ensure it’s not only the best fit for the brief, but will also be attractive and intuitive for end-users while improving the state of the world. Our commitment to, and expertise in, science and engineering allows us to deliver true end-to-end innovation. It’s this combination of technical know-how and inspired design that sets us in a class all our own.

Design as a competitive advantage

Embedding design into every facet of an organization will position brands for growth in a competitive landscape. It will spark new ideas that challenge entire industries, and positively reshape humanity’s future. By leading with purpose and design together with science and engineering, brands can assure that their ideas are impactful, effective, and ultimately successful.

Great design advocates for the betterment of people and the world we live in. The brands that realize this are the ones with the greatest competitive advantage.

John Edson is the US Head of Design and Engineering at PA Consulting. Brett Lovelady is a Consumer Design Expert at PA Consulting.


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