Good Design and the Bottom Line

Scott Francis
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Great article in Fast Company: “Why Good Design is Finally Becoming a Bottom Line Investment“:

Apple’s rise offers a few important lessons about today’s connection between design and business. The easiest is that design allows you to stoke consumer lust–and demand higher prices as a result. Whirlpool’s VP of design, Pat Schiavone, recently told me, “We’re changing from being a manufacturing-based company to being a product company. It’s not just about cost cutting.” Schiavone was hired three years ago from Ford, where he most famously rebooted the Mustang’s design. “Why change? Because good design is very profitable.”

That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who owns a $600 iPhone, but Apple’s model suggests some harder-to-digest lessons. One is the value of thinking of product systems rather than solely products. An instructive example comes from Frog, the design consultancy that fashioned the case for the legendary Apple IIc. Today, one of its marquee clients is GE. You might wonder what design can possibly have to do with the success of a jet engine or an MRI machine. But hospitals and power plants are now linking their machines into ecosystems. And well-designed iPad apps are the simplest way to manage them. “If we don’t do it, someone else will,” says Greg Petroff, general manager of user experience and design at GE. For the company, the threat is that if someone else designs those linkages, “GE could be relegated to not having the top relationship with the customer,” Petroff says. “Our hypothesis is that we can build a better solution.”

In the world of BPM, we can roughly translate the benefits as:

  • Better user adoption of new processes and tools. If there is ROI associated with the new process methods, it is stymied by design that is so bad that it decreases user adoption of software.
  • Beyond adoption, good design yields a more effective interface-  meaning that it enhances the ROI of good process implementation.  Or, conversely, that bad design can detract from otherwise good process implementation.
  • Better overall solutions, that feel less like they were stitched together with duct tape.
  • Evangelism for process change within the organization.  Often we have to break through resistance to change – and a good UI design helps do that.

We’re having this debate with a customer right now – discussing the right approach to UI design, as well as with UI design on a mobile app.  It’s our job to help them see the light – that design isn’t a hindrance, it is an aid to project success.  But in a world where design often means corporate standards and bureaucracy, it is easy to see how people can lose sight of the goal.  It is our job to remind them of the real goals and benefits of good design.

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