How Much Is Good Design Worth?

My wife and I are in the process of building a new house. Well… we’re not actually building yet; we’re still in the design phase. We’re at the point where the builder asked us to pick out plumbing fixtures.

For those of you who’ve never built a house, this probably sounds like an easy step in the process. What we discovered were hundreds, if not thousands, of options. We started with the faucet for the kitchen sink – how hard could that be?
As we stood looking at this overwhelming array of options, the salesperson said, “They’re basically all the same.” Really? They didn’t look the same – in fact, they all looked different to me. He went on to explain the fixtures are almost always made of brass and then the exterior finish is applied – typically stainless, chrome or bronze.
After looking at the options, I picked one – you guessed it, I chose one of the most expensive. The salesman affirmed my decision and said, “It’s not a better facet, it’s just more expensive.” Why was it more expensive? Not technology, not space-age materials, it just looked better – DESIGN!
What’s this story got to do with leadership? Everything.
Great design doesn’t just happen. Leaders set design standards and expectations for their organizations. Think Steve Jobs. The good news, you and I don’t have to be Jobs to do this. We just have to understand the economic value of great design and charge the right people with making it part of our culture.
This sounds too easy; elevate design and charge a significant premium for your product and services. The concept is easy; execution is harder. The primary stumbling block is you and me. Leaders make great design happen or not. Here are three reasons we might miss this low-hanging fruit.
We may not understand the economic value of good design. If this is you, go buy some plumbing fixtures, or furniture or a laptop (Apple is schooling the computer industry on the economic value of great design). You can almost always expect to pay more for good design. And since the incremental costs are minimal, the margins are significant.
Leaders are generally not good designers – The majority of leaders I know are more left-brain than right. Design lives on the right side. That’s okay; we don’t have to be designers. We just have to find people who are. Apple recently hired Angela Ahrendth, the former CEO of Burberry. Why? DESIGN sensibility (and in her case, leadership as a bonus).
We may mistakenly feel our customers don’t care about design. I’m guessing the first faucet manufacturers felt this way when their competition starting infusing products with good design. Target, the mass-market retailer, is a good case study on this topic. They asked, “What would happen if we made good design a high priority in the products we sell?” They believed people would pay for it. They were right.
If all things are equal, or even close, people will choose great design over the utilitarian functionality we see in many products and services. And, as my plumbing experience illustrates, people will pay a premium for it.[GLS_Shield]
How much value do you place on good design?

Leave a comment



Scott Friend

6 years ago

As a project manager, I would say ergonomics has a lot to play into design as well. You’ve referred to Apple products schooling the industry, but think of how gorgeous their products are to look at, but also how user friendly they are.
I agree we as leaders do have to find the designers, however I believe as leaders we SHOULD be the designers in some part. We’re designing a new generation of leaders. We’re molding and shaping them to be world changers.

mark

6 years ago

Great point, Scott! When I say, “Design,” I’m including ergonomics. We both know, people do care about those details. Thanks for joining the conversation! Mark

Micheal Rafter

6 years ago

At first read this post almost sounded like it was just about good design, regardless of functionality. I’m sure the balance here is a solid functional product that meets the needs of consumers and also presented in a pleasing form (and a little clever innovation doesn’t hurt either). Why just run water through a lead pipe when can have a better delivery system and an esthetically pleasing bronze faucet or serve a chicken sandwich in a plain white wrapper when you can have an insulated pouch with your logo.
– Micheal

mark

6 years ago

Michael, sorry I wasn’t more explicit. I’m assuming the product works… actually, I’m assuming the products and services we offer are technically sound and well made. In today’s world, if a company can’t make things that work, they won’t make it long. The free flow of information (aka the internet) has raised the bar for all of us. My comments were intended to challenge us to go beyond the functional – if we do it well, we may even be able to create competitive advantage through superior design. In most arenas, good design is a wide open game. Thanks for allowing me to clarify and thanks for joining the conversation! Mark

Wes

6 years ago

I completely agree. This concept is one I continually think about when I consider communications within a church (which is part of my job at a local church). Good design is well-thought out, well-planned, and simple. Going with your Apple analogy, I’ve seen toddlers master an iPhone within a few minutes of use. That’s great design.
Great design also includes processes, systems, and structures. Great design involves distilling incredibly difficult components (like an Apple computer) into something simple and easy to handle. The more you dive into great design, the more you understand how much work it takes for it to be great.
Wes

mark

6 years ago

I agree, good design is not easy, but it makes a HUGE difference – even in a church. Thanks for joining the conversation! Mark

Michael Stewart

6 years ago

Great design is the icing on the cake but the cake is the idea. Icing makes it better, more appealing perhaps. Without a great cake even the best icing can only fool a user/consumer but once. It all has to work together. A complete experience. Scott Friend and Michael Rafter both have good points. Design (functionality) are crucial to the entire user experience. It’s what keeps loyal CFA customers coming in the door for more.
Great article Mark. Much more discussion and friendly debate could be had around this topic without a doubt.

Kimunya Mugo

6 years ago

Design ranks very high for me. Perhaps it may be influenced by the fact that I’m in the communication and branding space. That aside, I have realized that if I fuss over design as a leader, it gives me the opportunity to think deeper and concentrate more on the experience that will be delivered. I think this helps me to focus on the other person rather than myself. I worry over what they’ll feel after their interaction with me. I want them to walk away knowing that I have served them unreservedly.

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