Friday, August 31, 2018

Do You Matter? How Great Design Will Make People Love Your Company Hardcover by Robert Brunner (Author), Stewart Emery (Author), Russ Hall (Author) (FT Press)

A lot  of companies like Apple and BMW get credit for designing beautiful physical objects, but physical designs can be copied. It seems that there's something more to the design of great iconic products. `Do You Matter?' is about the design of the experience of using these products-everything from how you buy the product, to what the box looks like, to how you carry it around with you. Perhaps a more interesting place to start is, why do we need relationships with companies at all?

When I was in college, one of the hit "The" bands was a raucous group from Down Under called The Vines. Now, the Vines definitely had a great sound, and their writing and melodies were great, but their press just revolved around their wacky lead signer, Craig Nichols who oscillated between adorable and totally insane. Now, Craig was an interesting guy, who was trying to fuse melodic rock with something grunge-y like Nirvana. Craig said weird irreverent things, and was often so `anti-establishment' that his fits of `quirky behaviour' cost the band many huge media appearances, hoards of mainstream fans and lots of money. After hearing of Nichols' obsession with McDonalds fries, I found myself pulling up to the Golden Arches more often. In a weird way, I didn't just connect with the band by listening to their music, and following the music news, I connected with them by eating the same junk food they ate. Because Craig loved McDonalds, I loved McDonalds. It was my way of connecting with a fun goofy carefree vibe (which has nothing to do with McD's actual marketing, by the way).

In a way, the rockstar analogy is perfect: another band I loved (and still do) was Pink Floyd. To say to someone that you loved Pink Floyd, was to admit two things: a) that you loved great guitar, and great sounds, and great rock b) that you were creative and imaginative, and hence, appreciated art and color in life, c) the words in the songs touched you, meaning you weren't just a rocker, you had a brain, and a heart as well. And so Pink Floyd fans get this feedback from each other when they talk about great albums, great concerts, and little nuances about the band members.

So this is my long winded way of saying we have relationships with these companies when and only when they seem to represent ideas that we like, and want to surround ourselves with. The BMW driver has an attitude about the world, and he wants everyone to know, not that he's rich, or successful (although the association doesn't hurt), but that he thinks a certain way. The popularity in late 1990's of the Christian WWJD (What would Jesus Do) wristbands was a perfect example of this: it combined something that was trendy and good looking, with ideas that millions of people truly believed in. When you combine a good product with a belief, an ethos, an attitude about the way the world is, you have a powerful brand, and a powerful following. Just hope they all have credit cards, and you have a business model.

And thus, Macintosh users, for many years, had the same identification: not only did they like good tech, but they loved what the Mac was about, and what it represented; they took it as a badge of honour to be a minority marketshare, knowing that in many other realms of life, the best is often in low numbers, and the masses often settle for mediocrity. But it's more than just that: what the Mac lovers believed was not just a belief about technology, but a belief about the world. The belief was that by being a little different, I'm not a bad person, actually, I should embrace it, because the status quo makes me puke, and never leads to anything great. Fittingly, Apple has never looked to polls, or focus groups to design its products. Focus groups don't lead to greatness, they lead to average. And to be average, even if it's incredibly profitable, is not worth it.

Ironically, it turns out that being average isn't so profitable after all. You can mass-produce cars, but you can't mass-produce average cars, and expect to still be in business 10 years later. No way. It turns out that companies who make amazing products, like imported cars, and superior electronics (like Samsung), always win because of the amazing experience their customers have using the products. Paying attention to detail means paying attention to the experience of using the product, and the best designers in the world know that that experience is why the customer bought that piece of plastic in the first place. You don't sacrifice great design for dollars. It doesn't work. You will end up destroying your company. Growth comes from great design.

Those experiences add up to one great truth: Great companies are a positive force in people's lives. Now, you may not be a Pink Floyd fan (breathe Mike... breathe...) or like Bimmers, but there is bound to be a company out there that makes products that you believe in, and it's got nothing to do with the taste, or the 0-60mph time, or the specifications of the technology. We bring friends into our lives that think like we do, and we bring MP3 players into our lives that `think like we do' as well. And what is the goal of all this consumption and qualification? People are seeking a great experience of being alive, and will buy products and surround themselves with things that help them do that. As Simon Sinek once said, People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

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