Good design is good business

Thomas Watson Jr, IBM CEO from 1952-1971 first coined this phrase back in 1973. While it sounds reasonable, is it actually true and how would we go about measuring it?

When you think of good design what comes up for you? Is it the sorbet in beautiful packaging you bought the other day? Your favourite social justice organization’s annual report? The pen that when held gives you a certain kind of feeling?

Design is not one thing. It is not just graphics on a page. Or the logo on an appliance. Or the appliance itself. But it’s these things too. Recently researchers at McKinsey Quarterly set out to determine the true value of design. They identified a 300 top performing, publicly listed companies and rated them on design.

They found that companies that invested in good design consistently outperform their competition in terms of profit. And not just by a little. At nearly twice the rate.

It held across all industries studied. It held for both products and services.

So why are we so reluctant to invest in good design?

And what is good design? According to McKinsey Quarterly’s researchers:

  • It’s analytical and can be measured

  • It’s cross-functional - everyone’s responsibility

  • It’s continuous iteration - not just a phase

  • It starts with the user experience - not just a product

And what does all of this mean for small businesses and freelancers who don’t have the luxury of an in-house design team?

It means starting with your user in mind. It means incorporating design thinking into your planning. It means involving your end user sooner and iterating quickly based on what you learn. It means thinking of design, not as a line item on a budget or as something you’ll invest in if you have money left over or if you do better next quarter.

So what?

A wise person once told me she often doesn’t know how she feels about a subject until she writes about it. It takes patience to sit with something long enough, to write about it in enough depth that you see it through to its logical conclusion.

You’ve spent countless hours developing a product or service that works for your clients. You are steeped in knowledge about your chosen field. You have set your price strategically and you have added features to make it easier for your clients to work with you. And so why is it so hard to encapsulate the true benefit of working with you? What’s the key thing your audience takes away from your process that they won’t get anywhere else?

When we’re asked how our audience really benefits from all of those features, often we come up short.

Translating features into benefits is so often overlooked. That’s why getting into the habit of seeing your product or service from the benefits end can really set you apart from your competitors.

Start by listing out your features, then for each one, write its benefit. Usually, this first benefit is just the starting point. When you think you have landed on a benefit, ask yourself so what? Then write your answer. Ask yourself ‘so what?’ again and again, until you run out of answers.

Only then will you know that you’ve landed on a real benefit.

Brand Anatomy 101

If there’s anything we love to talk about as marketers, it’s your brand’s personality. We turn ourselves inside out anthropomorphizing it, turning it into a caricature, ‘bringing it to life’.

It can feel a little awkward or cutesy. We’re talking about something serious after all. It’s your business and you just need to launch that new website, the new logo, the ad campaign already. Who cares what your brand eats for breakfast?

And the truth is, no one cares what your brand eats for breakfast. But there are people who care about what makes your business tick. They’re the people who design your new website, your new logo, who write the copy for your next Facebook ad. Because they don’t want to create something that looks like it could belong to any of the other businesses on your street. It’s bad for their business and bad for yours.

Think about how your brand shows up in the world. How it interacts with your customers, your competitors. Then write down five or six adjectives that describe your brand, what it stands for (and what it doesn’t).

It’s another step towards building something that matters to people.

Hiring a freelancer? The one thing you need to do before you seal the deal.

The first time you meet with a financial planner, you probably don’t expect them to present you with a comprehensive plan for what you should do with your money. And if they do, how much would you trust them? After all, they don’t know you, your situation, or your goals.

So when you hire a writer or designer to work on a creative project - whether it be to create your brand, write copy for your website or create a Facebook ad - they need to understand your goals. Who do you want to serve? How do you solve their problems? What do you want your audience to feel about your brand or believe about your services?

When we’re just starting out, most of us don’t have deep pockets. And we don’t always have the money to invest in top-of-the-line creative services. I’m a huge advocate for developing relationships with a team who knows and understands your brand. But this comes with a price tag not all of us can afford. Luckily, when it comes to getting creative work done cheap and fast, we have so many choices.

Whether you’re spending $2500 or $250, your process should be no different. Set your chosen freelancer up for success. Write a creative brief. Even when your chosen freelancer doesn’t ask for one.

Keep it to one page. Include your project’s objective, the problem the creative needs to solve, your target audience and how you want your audience to feel when they see it for the first time.

For the designer or writer on the other side of the world waiting for a project just like yours, it’s courteous. It’s also great practice for communicating who you are and what you’re trying to do.