HEED THE10 essential design truths

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Like sudden lightning, design electrifies some brands and electrocutes others. It instantly transforms how customers engage with you and redefines the value they place on your brands.

Here are 10 lighting rods to hold aloft in the coming weather:

1. Design isn't pretty.

Design is a plan for action, not decoration. It's a strategy that makes your brand's values real: what it feels like in your hand, how a screen responds to your cursor. It's about delivering a cycle of integrated, emotionally engaging experiences.

2. Design amplifies message. Geometrically.

It takes only one second for me to say "I love you." Sending a dozen roses gives that same message visual form, weight, texture, scale and scent. Design individualizes my message and ensures not only that it will arrive with eclat, but be a part of my audience's life for days.

3. Design is detail. Detail is brand.

Walt Disney Imagineering leader Marty Sklar pointed up at the spires of Sleeping Beauty's castle. He leaned over and told me that they sparkled like gold because, well ... they were gold; nothing else would reflect light like that. Making the highest-quality choice turned out to be responsible, too: It lasted longer and cost less.

4. Design is empathic.

In my class at the School of Visual Arts Graduate Design Program we explore how personal storytelling leads to successful design. Our student Deborah Adler explained how her grandmother became ill by taking her grandfather's medicine. She developed a revolutionary packaging system that aimed to prevent medicines from being taken incorrectly. Target and she developed the design, built a potent differentiator for its pharmacy business, enjoyed astonishing press and received a public "thank you" from the U.S. surgeon general (target.com/clearrx).

5. Niche design is mass design.

Designers seek customers' unspoken needs, and then deliver on them. Marketers who think "mid-America won't buy it" still have no clue. Look at any big detergent brand Web site. Then check out Method (methodhome.com). Unlike the others, Method uses inventive design to make their "People against dirty" movement seductive and fun.

6. Design is transitive.

Consumers who enjoy one-click ordering at Amazon are disappointed when they don't get it from airlines, hotels and catalogs. On the flip side, the contagious design experience of iPod has probably helped sell more iMacs than years of brilliant ads.

7. Design demands talent.

Talent and reputation aren't the same. Meet the designers who will actually work on your business. If their own work doesn't move you, don't hire the firm.

8. Involvement is the new "reach." Time is the new "frequency."

For Dove we went straight to our customers. With our clients in Canada we created a touring exhibit of women photographers' personal views of beauty. Thousands of Canadians lined up to experience the groundbreaking show at malls across the country. In-depth press coverage was an order of magnitude far greater than that of any typical media buy. And design thinking helped ignite a national conversation around Dove's ideas of self-defined beauty (campaignforrealbeauty.com).

9. Participants are the new "audience."

On American Express cards the "member since" date makes tenure important every time the customer handles his or her card. Cost: Zero. Loyalty: The highest in a hyper-competitive field.

10. Advertising promises. Design performs.

If you link your advertising's emotional charge to tangible experience using great design, your brands will crackle with energy. Some people will ignore the growing power of design and hold onto the big audience numbers of traditional advertising. To them it will be the only solid thing around when everything else is spinning in the wind. As for me, I'm going out to meet the storm. I'll be the one passing out the kites.
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