How Much Is Good Design Worth?

My wife and I are in the process of building a new house. Well… we’re not actually building yet; we’re still in the design phase. We’re at the point where the builder asked us to pick out plumbing fixtures.

For those of you who’ve never built a house, this probably sounds like an easy step in the process. What we discovered were hundreds, if not thousands, of options. We started with the faucet for the kitchen sink – how hard could that be?
As we stood looking at this overwhelming array of options, the salesperson said, “They’re basically all the same.” Really? They didn’t look the same – in fact, they all looked different to me. He went on to explain the fixtures are almost always made of brass and then the exterior finish is applied - typically stainless, chrome or bronze.
After looking at the options, I picked one - you guessed it, I chose one of the most expensive. The salesman affirmed my decision and said, “It’s not a better facet, it’s just more expensive.” Why was it more expensive? Not technology, not space-age materials, it just looked better - DESIGN!
What’s this story got to do with leadership? Everything.
Great design doesn’t just happen. Leaders set design standards and expectations for their organizations. Think Steve Jobs. The good news, you and I don’t have to be Jobs to do this. We just have to understand the economic value of great design and charge the right people with making it part of our culture.
This sounds too easy; elevate design and charge a significant premium for your product and services. The concept is easy; execution is harder. The primary stumbling block is you and me. Leaders make great design happen or not. Here are three reasons we might miss this low-hanging fruit.
We may not understand the economic value of good design. If this is you, go buy some plumbing fixtures, or furniture or a laptop (Apple is schooling the computer industry on the economic value of great design). You can almost always expect to pay more for good design. And since the incremental costs are minimal, the margins are significant.
Leaders are generally not good designers – The majority of leaders I know are more left-brain than right. Design lives on the right side. That’s okay; we don’t have to be designers. We just have to find people who are. Apple recently hired Angela Ahrendth, the former CEO of Burberry. Why? DESIGN sensibility (and in her case, leadership as a bonus).
We may mistakenly feel our customers don’t care about design. I’m guessing the first faucet manufacturers felt this way when their competition starting infusing products with good design. Target, the mass-market retailer, is a good case study on this topic. They asked, “What would happen if we made good design a high priority in the products we sell?” They believed people would pay for it. They were right.
If all things are equal, or even close, people will choose great design over the utilitarian functionality we see in many products and services. And, as my plumbing experience illustrates, people will pay a premium for it.[GLS_Shield]
How much value do you place on good design?


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