The Amazing Power of Design for Business

February 6, 2024
Briscoe Pelkey
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To me there are two types of companies: high design and low design. High design companies make the effort (and a little extra expense) to pursue good design principles in everything they produce. Low design companies attempt to cut corners and save a little money that ultimately costs them business.

People respond to powerful designs in ways that help your brand stand out in a crowded market. When design works, it resonates. When ideas resonate, they inspire action. However, many businesses underestimate the power of design and see it as an afterthought rather than a strategic tool.

Good design isn't just about making things look pretty. It's about creating a cohesive and memorable brand experience for your customers. When design is integrated into every aspect of your business, from your website to your product to your packaging, it helps you build trust and credibility with your audience. It communicates your values and differentiates yourself from your competitors. I strongly feel that proper focus on design can be the difference between a mediocre business and a thriving one.

“In a sense, a corporation should be like a good painting; everything visible should contribute to the correct total statement; nothing visible should detract.”
– Eliot Noyes, Architect & Industrial Designer

It’s not just an opinion, McKinsey found that companies that prioritized design saw 32% higher revenue growth than their competitors. In their report, The Business Value of Design, they note that companies embracing design thinking, such as lean startups, demonstrate better decision making through rapid prototyping and iterative learning.

Now that everyone has easy access to the vast capabilities of Generative AI (when used wisely), companies can work through ideas faster than ever before. But ideas by themselves aren’t enough, they must be implemented via good design to be successful.

What is Good Design?

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”
– Steve Jobs

Apple is an easy company to use as an example of design-led-growth. To illustrate this, rewind the clock 40 years or so and consider the household computers of the day. Like thousands of 80’s kids, I was enamored with the Commodore 64. To perform a simple task using the C64 interface, you had to type out a series of BASIC commands correctly.

First off, it was necessary to read a few books and manuals to know what to type. If you made a mistake, a syntax error would let you know something needed to be fixed. Then you had to retype everything as copy and paste wasn’t a thing yet. This interface was something engineers implemented to make the computer purely functional without emphasis on user experience.  

Don't get me wrong, I have fond memories of writing thousands of lines of BASIC to make a simple game on my C64. 🤓

In this iconic video from 1984, Apple’s graphic design pioneer, Susan Kare, casually uses modern UX terminology – new for many people at the time – to describe the basics of Mac’s new graphical user interface. By creating a visual language that simplified commands into familiar graphical objects, Apple dramatically increased the accessibility and usefulness of their computers. With the graphical interface, a new era of productivity in personal computing began.

The graphical user interface was so intuitive, I don't remember "learning" how to use it.

The same focus on simplicity and user experience that has delighted customers for decades led to the development and rapid adoption of the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad, the Apple watch, and so on.

Apple’s design principles are simple:

  • Design everything to be elegant and easy to use, rather than eye-catching or flashy.
  • Put the customer experience first and ensure that designs work for a wide audience from beginners to experts.
  • Listen to customers and make improvements that are truly beneficial with each product iteration.
  • Focus on quality, above all. Resist the urge to cut corners.

Simplicity is Apple’s core design value and one of the foundations for the success of the company – now poised to be the world’s first 3 trillion-dollar (high design) company.

Always Judge a Book by its Cover

I know. I know. It’s the opposite of what we’ve always been told. But seriously, why not judge a book by its cover? A good book cover that lures you into a good story shows that everyone involved in its production understands the value of complete (visual + written) communication.

Leave Cancelled cover design by Paul Rand with its11 “bullet holes” die-cut into the dust jacket,1945.

According to graphic designer, David Carson, if the designer has done their job right, it means they’ve read the material and understand it enough to show it. This holds true for all customer-facing business communications. The more sophisticated or deeply technical your message is, the more difficult this will be for the designer to show. Take time to ensure everyone on the team understands the information correctly so they can enhance and amplify it effectively.

Design will not be at its best if it’s merely an afterthought. For example, if you are writing copy for an eBook and leave placeholders for images, then throw your work over a wall to a designer hoping they fill in the blanks – you might be missing vital visual storytelling opportunities. When I think of the lowest performing customer-facing assets I’ve seen – they usually could be described as “cookie cutter,” “templatized,” or “formulaic.” Your audience will know the difference. They don’t have time to wade through muck to get to the good stuff.

“I've never used grids; I still don't. I never studied or learned about them, and when I did, I saw no reason to use them.”
– David Carson

Good design will intrigue people, help pull them into the story and understand and relate to the content better. When done well, your stories will be more memorable, and it will be a treat for your audience to experience.

Audiences appreciate a cleverly connected visual story, and they recognize one that isn’t. In the marketing metrics world, this recognition takes the form of low engagement time, unfinished videos, short web page visits, and abandoned forms.

Seems Obvious...

But, oddly enough, most companies aren’t really doing it – or they are confusing marginal design with good design. Companies might try to lean on technologies like Generative AI to bail them out of their design woes. But, as cool as it is, Generative AI doesn't have an imagination. And certainly won't help if it's only used to cut design corners.  

So, hire people with imagination. Look for good in-house designers that can visualize and render ideas at high levels of fidelity. Imagination fuels every design discipline. Not everyone needs to be an actual designer, but everyone should be able to take a leap of the imagination to contribute something to a design. Steve Jobs often gets credit for being the driving force behind Apple’s design even though he “didn’t draw a single line.” When a company’s leadership has a strong vision and makes design a priority – the results are... Amazing!

Briscoe Pelkey
With over 20 years of experience in design, brand, and content strategy roles, I am a creative leader who can understand and communicate sophisticated technical ideas, analyze data to enhance user experience, elevate brand and achieve marketing performance goals.