Design By Balancing Business and Consumer Needs

An Article About Design

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Paul Rand, graphic artist and art director, was about 80 years old when I photographed him for a book on people and creativity. I went to his studio in Weston, Conn., near Yale, where he taught graphic design for 30 years. I would argue that there was just as much business being covered in his class. His saying, "good design is good business," was the foundation of his endeavors and, I believe, why so many corporate logos and identities-ABC, Westinghouse, IBM and UPS-can be credited to him. Mr. Rand talked, as graphic designers do, about letterforms, font and type. But unlike a lot of designers, he also spoke as much about business goals, corporate responsibility, values and goodwill toward consumers. The business of design is the basis of any good design program, which is respectful of the power and value that design provides the balance sheet. Companies that want to make design a part of their DNA best start with a business plan before they bring on the design team.
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When we began our work with Samsung in the early 1990s, they were a sleeping giant, known as OEMâ€"producers for global consumer electronics and appliance brands. We were hired to design the platform for a long-term brand identity not rooted in traditional media and a 30-second spot.
"Our assignment was based on a memo Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee sent to his company, declaring"
Our assignment was based on a memo Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee sent to his company, declaringthat design innovation would lead the quest to become No. 1 in the industry and shift Samsung from a manufacturing-centric to a consumer-centric organization. This simple memo became the corporate banner by which we introduced the concept and process of PowerBranding for this enterprise, rich in goodwill and manufacturing strength but without a face to the public. Design innovation was our assignment. It was the last thing, however, we tackled.

We took a lesson from the master, Mr. Rand, and began making a plan that would establish the business of good design as a corporate institution within Samsung. Without this, designers would continue as they had been working-designing better-looking boxes around existing electronic "guts." This was styling and decoration, not design. This was, and still is for many, the way it is done.

Good design is not design if content and culture are not driving the thought process and development. Content is what gives design an ultimate reason to be. Consumers may like a certain design, but they love a product when it also meets their needs and allows them to join the brand. The goal of good design is to take a consumer from "like" to "love."

It does require designing the plan first, as design is more than knowing how to manipulate software. Mr. Rand sketched his ideas on paper; Frank Gehry builds wood and foam core models before turning the concept into drawings. As only Frank can say, "design is not about pushing buttons on a computer. It is about pushing the user's buttons."

For Samsung, the plan to push all the right buttons consisted of partnering with Arts Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., a renowned school where some of the world's top graphic and industrial designers make their talents business-ready. We worked with Samsung and the school to build a curriculum for innovation and product development. The $10 million, eight-story Innovative Design Lab of Samsung (IDS) was built in Seoul, South Korea. Arts Center professors, relocated from California to Seoul, were led by three unsung heroes-Bruce Gordon, David Brown and James Miho-who believed, if they got it right, that the world would soon feel the voice and face of design at Samsung, and hence, its importance.

From that day forward, Samsung never designed just a product again. IDS designers studied intellectual assets, brand values, consumer values, lifestyle needs, desired experiences and emotional connections. Samsung believes, to this day, that it must sell corporate values, consumer values, ideas and content that become visibly realized through design.

Design innovation is the result of a company that is in control of its values and mission for the ultimate benefit of consumers who want to be in control of their environment and experiences. The new Divine Proportion exists when products developed to meet business and consumer needs achieve a natural and pleasing balance between both. Good design speaks for itself-without promotion. Look at Apple, Sony, Target, Nike, Nissan and Motorola, to name a few, who have captured the imagination of consumers through design. Design it and the world will follow.
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