How great that we have the designer, who is able to view the issue from another angle, and by that can generate new and relevant insights, isn’t it?
True, not only designers can do that – it just needs a design thinking, which is driven by curiosity and empathy and wants to improve the existing for the better – and frankly this can be done by all of us, in principle. But what you have to bring along for the ‘better’ truly will be perceived as such by others, is a creative and emphatic mind, which is able to envision how this ‘better’ will take shape and have the desired impact on others. This poses such a beautiful mind is not within everyone’s reach…
Lately, I described some circumstances in the medical field, where such a mind can achieve a lot: by changing the perspective and by applying empathy, one can question the existing and improve it for the better. This led to an improved medical device, in which patients can sustain an intervention with improved comfort and peace of mind; but also to increased efficiency for the hospital owner, who can leverage the investments better; as well as to improved business for the manufacturer of the device, who saw demand increased and his brand value improved. All involved got better – like a fairytale come true!
How thin the line between ‘truly’ better and ‘somehow’ better actually is, I would soon discover in the following design-assignment, at another location: after the rewarding work on medical systems, I was attracted to the world of consumers – to a field where products and service are purchased and used by everyday people and where you are able to view the result of your design work in an ordinary shop – or even buy it yourself!
Even though it was great to be involved in such an important issue as healthcare, and even to be rewarded with the most prestigious design awards for that, it was not possible to experience and own the outcome of your work yourself – if possible, you better stay far away from medical devices!
Hence I took the opportunity and hired-up with the team of consumer electronics, with a team developing VCR’s, to be precise: those were manufactured by the millions, quite something different from the 50-odd X-ray systems before that.
I started in my new endeavour in good spirit, and as with the previous assignment I first took a closer look at the circumstances, with the aim to improve them, based on the insights I would gain. The product managers told me that the business was ranked nr. 3 on the market and that the gap to the market leader was more than 10 points – “you better work on that insight!” Also, the margins weren’t as they should have been – also they had to be improved.
Well, I knew that improved design of an existing product could change both these aspects – as it was proved with the medical device – so I took up the challenge and got going.
It didn’t take long to find out that the market leader made a way better impression than we did: within the lucrative hi-fi market segment they featured a design with 55mm more width, and as it turned out, size did matter: our hi-fi products were all the same width as the ones form the low-priced mono segment. On top of having ‘size’, they also put theirs on feet, just like the really expensive audio equipment, and with that, they evoked the impression that their products were of the highest quality. The consumers obviously were impressed, as a magazine review clearly did reveal.
Hence I put myself in the consumer’s ‘shoes’ and imagined what I would decide on when buying a device of such high quality: it should look and feel like one, simple.
No sooner said than done: I added 55mm of air and some feet, additionally to that the design was refined in order to come closer to the ‘look’ of high-end audio devices. (The 55m of air had to be because the engineers had optimized production to the smaller size and consequently only had one print board at disposal – making bigger was not possible.)
Within a year after the market introduction, we were the market leader and were making margins like never before – our turnover in the hi-fi segment doubled. The consumers liked the product, trade loved it, the test results were outstanding: best of class! Did the success story repeat itself?
Not really: it turned out to be a Pyrrhic victory, an illusion or maybe just 55mm of ‘hot air’?
Soon after the introduction of the new design, the DVD-player came out to kill the VCR. And as soon as the expected margins were plunging, the factory was closed and the employees fired in the hope to safe margins by purchasing cheaply in far-east – and consequently, I did lose my job as well.
From then on, one thing was clear to me: good and successful design isn’t only that what a designful mind can create, but foremost that what sustains over time and improves things for the better in a sustainable manner. A lesson learned.