The Business Value of Design and Why You Don’t Really Want to Be Apple

We hear it everywhere, from every brand. Everyone wants to be Apple. But why? Not every brand sells phones, computers, music, etc. Many don’t even sell tech. So, why would they idolize a brand that has little to nothing to do with their business? Whether they know it or not, they don’t really want to be Apple. They don’t even necessarily want to look exactly like Apple.

They just want good design and Apple is the most iconic example of this in recent history. Every aspect of the Apple brand has been touched by design, the products, packaging, marketing, applications, offices, even the wardrobe of their late founder. Companies want this level of design integration within their own brands.

And rightfully so. Good design has proven invaluable for thousands of brands from B2C companies like Toms, Starbucks, and Chipotle to B2B organizations like MailChimp, Dropbox, and Square.

Customers on every end of the B2B and B2C spectrum have come to expect their brands to pay attention to design. And those that ignore this trend will be left on the shelf collecting dust next to their dated offer burstsWeb 2.0 templates, and entire arsenal of deep drop shadows, bevels, and glossy buttons.

What Is Design?

Design is more than a logo. It’s woven through every aspect of a brand. It’s the contour of a Coke bottle, the minimalist hardware of the iPhone, the iconic blue of a Tiffany box. It even spills over into the layout of the brand’s headquarters, the artwork the office walls, the tie worn by their CEO. Design puts visual context around your brand. It’s the way you represent your company to the world.

What Is Good Design?

Good design takes control of that representation. It takes your customers through your brand story to foster a connection. It informs, captivates, and persuades. Good design is achieved through six key characteristics (which are a slight variation from the Dieter Rams industrial design perspective.)

  1. InnovativeGood design pushes boundaries and drives trends. It moves just fast enough to delight your customers without outpacing them. It strives to deliver the best possible solution to effectively communicate your brand story.
  2. TimelessThough good design drives trends, it does so without being trendy. Achieving true timelessness is virtually impossible, especially in a digital world. But the best designs balance a modern approach with a classic, lasting touch.
  3. DetailedEvery last font, color, pattern, and pixel should accurately reflect your brand. It considers how the design will translate across every piece of collateral and how your audience will interact with that collateral.
  4. AppealingNo one wants to engage with an ugly interface, read an unsightly postcard, or peruse a drab brochure. Good design considers your customer and appeals to their preferences. It evokes a sense of quality with an aesthetic that draws your audience in.
  5. IntuitiveWhile intuitive design is typically associated with digital media, good design is intuitive across all channels. Your audience shouldn’t have to work to understand your brand story. Good design does the work for them, enhancing your message and giving your audience a better sense of who you are.
  6. IntegratedNo one element of good design is an island. It should be implemented as part of a complete identity system, building an entire experience that reflects your brand story and brings your customer through the buyer journey.

The Design Difference

Design-driven organizations understand just how valuable good design can be at every level of a business strategy. These organizations have become some of the most most recognizable and admired brands within their diverse verticals. Other companies are taking note, and, as a result, design-centric business philosophies are becoming the norm.

More and more organizations are finding ways to grow their business with the help of good design. Some of the largest companies in the world are investing big dollars in infusing more design philosophy into their business. In fact, in the past five years large companies like Adobe, Dropbox, and LinkedIn have acquired companies founded by designers.

So, what do design-driven companies know that others don’t?

Design Gets Noticed

The pinnacle of success for a design-driven organization is the launch of design that doesn’t just deliver the marketing. It becomes the marketing. This is exactly what companies are referring to when they say they want to be Apple. They want to be as talked about and recognized as Apple.

But, again, they don’t want to actually be Apple. Because good design differentiates your brand. It sets you apart from competitors. Slack has done this better than many other B2C brands and it’s been very profitable for them (another benefit of good design we’ll get to a little later). At its core, Slack is very similar to other enterprise chat applications, but its experience is vastly difference thanks to their attention to design.

Good design is one way small companies can compete with the big guys. Tight marketing budgets may not allow your brand to be everywhere, but a strategic investment in good design speaks infinitely louder than bad design (or no design at all), which means the money you do spend on marketing will have all the more impact.

Design Engages Customers

Whether it’s a software interface, website, or even a brochure, audiences quickly become immersed in good design. Even companies operating in the most mundane of industries have found ways to hold the attention of a captive audience with good design.

One of the best examples of this is Intuit. They serve both sides of B2C and B2B spectrum and they do it with good design. The company has managed to take the dry, uninteresting world of finance and turn it into an engaging, even fun, experience. An experience that starts with their marketing materials and carries through each one of their products.

Additionally, General Mills recently made steps toward leveraging good design to create a more engaging corporate brand. They realized it was the only way to draw their diverse audience into their overarching brand story, which, until recently, was not as captivating as the stories behind their sub-brands. Mainly, because the design behind the corporate brand was not on par with the design behind their consumer brands.

If we can learn anything from these brands and their focus on design, it’s that an engaged audience is more receptive to your message. The more captivated they are by your brand, the easier it will be for them to transition to lead, then customer, and, ultimately, brand advocate.

Design Drives Profits

Both getting noticed and engagement lend themselves to the final, and arguably most important, benefit of good design, ROI. Good design drives profits. The earlier mentioned, Slack knows this. They know this to the tune of $2.8 billion. And they’re not alone in this realization.

CNS Therapeutics also saw the value of design when launching a new FDA-approved drug. Even their left-brained, analytical audience was more receptive to the well-designed collateral supporting the launch. The design-focused go-to market strategy resulted in 14 percent market penetration after just one year and 60 percent before CNS was ultimately acquired by a larger pharmaceutical company.

The Design Management Institute in partnership with Motiv has put hard numbers to this idea with the Design Value Index. What they found was rather astonishing. Design-centric brands outperformed the S&P companies by 228 percent over the course of ten years. Even when comparing apples to apples, or Apple to Microsoft in this case, the design-driven organization boasts a worth more than twice its rival tech company.

It’s not just large, established companies who realize the major profits design can bring. Since 2013, five designer-led startups called out in the Design In Tech 2015 Report have raised more than $2.75 billion.

It’s getting to the point that ignoring design is akin to ignoring piles of cash. Customers in nearly every industry expect to be catered to with great design, and if a company ignores those expectations, they’ll gladly spend their dollar elsewhere.