Would anyone shed a tear if your company went away tomorrow? If not, then you have a problem: you haven't fully leveraged the power of good design to get you and your product to the point where you, "actually matter to people", according to Robert Brunner, an industrial designer of such product lines as the Apple II, Macintosh, Newton and PowerBook.
Now CEO of Ammunition Group and author of "Do you matter: How great design will make people love your company," Brunner opened this week's Embedded Systems Conference (ESC) here in Boston where he discussed a breadth of critical attributes needed for product success, from the true meaning of branding all the way up to understanding risk in order to innovate, how difficult times can be turned into an opportunityand how by being cognizant of three basic principles it's possible to, "shrink the psychological gap between you and your constituents using design."
"Your logo is not your brand: Brand is a gut feeling," said Brunner. "If a lot of people feel the same way about a company, then you have a brand."
By way of example, Brunner recounted a question he posed to a class he was teaching on design. He asked the class if anyone would care if Motorola disappeared tomorrow. No one put their hand up. When he then asked if anyone would care if Apple went away, almost everyone responded.
"Great products are more than objects," he said, pointing to the Apple iPod. By itself it is an elegant yet simple and innocuous design. However, when viewed in the context of all that goes with it, from the simple user interface to the iTunes ecosystem, it's much more.
"It's not about what this part's about, it's the sum total of what it means," he said. Harley-Davidson, as a brand, is an extreme case in point: "How many people would tattoo your brand to their head?"
Getting to that point where your brand matters and your product becomes more than an object starts internally with a shared vision across the company. "It's pervasive: everything matters," he said. From the CEO down to the packagers on the conveyer belt.
At the product and design level , it's also achieved by being useful and usable, as demonstrated in Brunner's Kohler Karbon faucet video, while also through being honest with your users and capable of understanding and taking risks in order to truly innovate.
"People's B.S. meter are finely tuned," he said, thanks to Google and social networks, "so you can't waste time not being authentic." As for risk, "it's not a four-letter word," he said. "Innovation is a risk and can't always be put on a spreadsheet."
The trick, he said, is to understand risk, not avoid it. Some of the better clients Brunner's ever had were not well-established large companies in financially stable positions. They were, instead, small companies on their last legs, or large companies that had fallen on hard times, both willing to take a risk on a design. Those, he said, were the real innovators.
The threefold path to good design
"Everyone is a designer," said Brunner, but he urges engineers to keep three things in mind from the start:
- Disruption: Design can really be disruptive so engineers need to view "design as a strategy," not an endgame in itself.
- Emotion: Engineers need to work to make that 'emotional' connection a reality between users and the product.
- Partnerships: "You can't go it alone," he said. "You have to have partners to create a great [end user] experience."