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Design is the ultimate differentiator – Here’s how to win at it

As consumers demand products that look, feel, and work better, businesses that prioritize design will continue to thrive.

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Image: EduBirdie

Ever since that fateful moment in July 1997 when Steve Jobs returned to Apple, one thing has been clear: design is the difference between mediocre and top-performing companies.

This isn’t just idle conjecture; studies even show that design-focused companies like Nike and Apple outperform the S&P 500 by a whopping 219%.

You can see this all around you. Companies that would dump their products in ugly cardboard boxes now talk about “unboxing experiences.” Websites that used to be put together through cheap templates are now designed by expensive creative firms.

design stats

Even investors are biased in favor of design – design-led startups raise substantially more money than their design agnostic counterparts.

If a design is an ultimate differentiator, how can you compete? What steps can you take to ensure that your business embraces design, and wins? We’ll share some answers below.

Hire Better Talent

The first answer is also the most obvious one: get better talent.

Businesses often assume that this means offering higher salaries. While higher compensation certainly doesn’t hurt, people in a creative field like design often want something more than just high wages.

As Harvard Business Review points out, for creative people, this “more” is usually the same: a sense of community, a worthy cause, and career advancement. If you can offer these, you will find that you will attract better candidates, even if you can’t match the salaries offered by Google and Apple.

Of course, you have to search in the right spots for talent as well. Platforms like Workamajobs can help you find candidates that are more suited to working in small to medium-sized businesses and agencies.

Create a Design Culture

The companies that excel at design don’t just hire good designers; they also embrace a design culture.

Design culture is the philosophy that design can’t just be tacked onto a business or team. Rather, design has to come organically from the business’ ethos. It has to be central to its philosophy and approach to creating solutions.

Think of the way Apple and Dell approached computers in the early 2000s. Dell lacked a design culture and thus, prioritized features and technical specifications. Apple, on the other hand, focused on the way its computers, looked, felt, and operated. The technical specifications were secondary.

Companies that embrace a design culture have a few things in common:

  • Designers are at the heart of the company’s operations and have a key role in decision making. In Apple, the chief design offer – Jony Ive – is second-only to the CEO in terms of decision-making authority.
  • Problems are approached from a design-first perspective. There is a core belief that better solutions need to be human-centric, not feature-centric.
  • There is a strong focus throughout the company on creating cohesive experiences rather than one-off solutions. This includes not just the product itself but every aspect of the production, sale, and post-sale experience.

Creating a design-first culture isn’t an easy task, nor is it immediate. You have to invest in hiring designers and getting senior leadership to buy into this design-first ethos. It takes time and effort, but the long-term results are worth it.

Place People at the Heart of the Business

What do all companies that excel at design have in common?

Simple: they all place their people at the heart of their business. The business exists not to serve shareholders, senior executives, or even the market.

Instead, it exists to make its employees and the people who buy its products happy.

This people-first approach is fundamentally different from the usual profit-first motive that most businesses adopt. It’s an approach that prioritizes empathy instead of the bottom line. Such businesses don’t see people as just “resources.” Rather, they see them as partners in a journey towards building a better world.

This isn’t just management wisdom; it’s a new way of approaching business. By placing people at the center of your operations, you build a more empathetic, a more human organization.

Given that design is essentially about making more human-focused solutions, it’s little surprise that such businesses excel at design.

Over to You

There are a great number of uncertainties in business, but one thing we can all be sure of: design-focused businesses will continue to dominate the markets in the future. As consumers demand products that look, feel, and work better, businesses that prioritize design will continue to thrive.

Have any thoughts on this? Let us know down below in the comments or carry the discussion over to our Twitter or Facebook.

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