In the communications world, good design is no longer about making a newsletter or website look better. Today’s designers have a much bigger role to play.
The strategic importance of design was recognised very early on by Thomas J Watson Jr, Chief executive of IBM from 1956 to 1971, who famously declared: “good design is good business”. It’s a straightforward definition that still rings true today.
Think about it. Not so many years ago, we were upgrading our computers and mobiles fairly regularly, to keep up with our ever-growing need for more processing power. We were always on the look-out for new technology that could do things faster or that had more memory. But that’s not really the case any longer. Nowadays we tend to have more processing power than we could ever need. And it’s the design that’s driving us.
Take the iPhone, for example. It’s a modern icon. Think of all those people queuing up outside the Apple offices last year, waiting to get their hands on the iPhone 6. And what made it their must-have item? The answer is simple: design. We’re not just talking about the product’s sleek exterior; this goes much, much deeper than that. It’s also about designing the software around the needs of the user. Steve Jobs summed it up when he said: “The main thing in our design is that we have to make things intuitively obvious.”
So how can we measure the effectiveness of design? That’s become a lot easier since the world went digital. Internal communications is a good example: we can now analyse usage stats for digital publications and websites – how many users visited the page, how long did they stay on the page, which were the most and least popular articles, and so on – and then use that data to help refine the design going forward. Back in the days when print was king, this amount and depth of feedback simply wasn’t available.
McKinsey director Hugo Sarrazin believes that design is a mind-set: “It’s a set of capabilities and skills. It does require an environment to flourish. It requires people to work in a more collaborative way that is different than it’s been historically […] it’s getting the right people together, creating the right sense of community.”
Collaboration is indeed at the heart of the design process. And not just collaboration among designers, either – it’s long been acknowledged that working together can fuel creativity; this is also about collaboration between designer and client. For example, the internal communications world is now awash with digital options, from gamification to Yammer. But that doesn’t mean that every option is suitable for every client organisation. Sometimes the best advice is not to design something – because it won’t add value.
Good design is good business.