Book Excerpt

Design, Design, Where Art Thou?

Editor’s Note: Although branding expert Marty Neumeier claims that he compresses his thoughts to be quick-read “airplane books,” his insights are so thought-provoking and inspirational that they are best read in short segments so you can chew on what he has to say. This is a chapter from his latest book.


Excerpted from “The Designful Company”
by Marty Neumeier

The discipline of design has been waiting patiently in the wings for nearly a century, relegated to supporting roles and stand-in parts. Until now, companies have used design as a beauty station for identities and communications, or as the last stop before a product launch. Never has it been used for its potential to create rule-bending innovation across the board. Meanwhile, the public is developing a healthy appetite for all things design.

One survey by Kelton Research found that when 7 in 10 Americans recalled the last time they saw a product they just had to have, it was because of design. They found that with younger people 18-29, the influence of design was even more pronounced. More than one out of four young adults were disappointed in the level of design in America, saying, for example, that cars were better designed 25 years ago.

In Great Britain, a recent survey commissioned by The Design Council found that 16% of British businesses say that design tops their list of key success factors. Among “rapidly growing” businesses, a whopping 47% rank it first. The mushrooming demand for design is being shaped by a profound shift in how the first world makes its living: creativity in its various forms has become the number-one engine of economic growth. The “creative class,” in the words of Toronto University professor Richard Florida, now comprises 38 million members, or more than 30% of the American workforce. McKinsey authors Lowell Bryan and Claudia Joyce put the figure only slightly below at 25%. They cite creative professionals in financial services, health care, high tech, pharmaceuticals, and media and entertainment who act as agents of change, producers of intangible assets, and creators of new value for their companies.

When you hear the phrase innovative design, what picture comes to mind? An iPhone? A Prius? A Nintendo Wii? Most people will visualize some kind of technology product. Yet products—technological or otherwise—are not the only possibilities for design. Design is rapidly spreading from “posters and toasters” to processes, systems, and organizations.

Dr. Deming, the mid-century business guru who inspired Six Sigma, had some far-reaching ideas beyond quality control. You’d expect his thinking to be stuck in the rusty past, but it remains remarkably progressive by modern standards. His trademark 1982 “System of Profound Knowledge” was an attempt to get managers to think outside the system they’re working in. It featured a list of “deadly diseases,” including a lack of purpose, the mobility of executives, and an emphasis on short-term profits (sound familiar?). Among the diseases was an over-reliance on technology to solve problems.

The sure cure for Deming’s diseases is design. It’s the accelerator for the company car, the power train for sustainable profits: design drives innovation; innovation powers brand; brand builds loyalty; and loyalty sustains profits. If you want long-term profits, don’t start with technology, start with design.

4 thoughts on “Design, Design, Where Art Thou?

  1. I absolutely agree on the importance of design. But I don't see it as opposed to tech. Isn't design itself a technology? Couldn't you also define the outcome as technology? Creating user-friendly, attractive solutions to a problem should be the goal of all technology….

    The reason for making this point is that it doesn't seem healthy to demonize tech in favor of design. Design should be the highest form of tech. And it is the key to the creation of intellectual capital for corporations–capturing the collective knowledge of people and stakeholders and turning it into products and solutions that create value.

  2. Thank you for mentioning Marty Neumeier in your post. I thought you and your readers would like to know that he just released his very first video, INNOVATION WORKSHOP: Brand Strategy + Design Thinking = Transformation.

    The 45-minute video presents concepts from his bestselling “whiteboard” books – THE BRAND GAP, ZAG, and THE DESIGNFUL COMPANY – plus downloadable exercises that will help you and your team work through brand innovation questions. Overall, this video expands to fill a one-day workshop (an $800 value!) for an extremely affordable price. Check it out below:

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