By Victor Ermoli
In the book, The Experience Economy, authors B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore introduce us to an economic concept where value transcends function and performance. Rather, in the experience economy, value is based on how a product or service makes us feel. Consequently, the more unique and positive the experience we perceive, the more money people are willing to pay for the product or service.
Let’s take it to the next level.
If every toaster we get from a store will toast bread perfectly, is safe and will last many years, then why we are willing to pay from $9.99 to more than $100.00 for a toaster? Why wouldn’t everyone buy the lowest-priced product if the function of the product not only meets, but also exceeds our expectations? The same question applies to cars. Why do we pay tens of thousands of dollars more for a similar four-door machine that get us from gas station to gas station (my definition of a car)? Even more, when we examine the reliability and safety data by brand, the most expensive cars tend to be all over the place, not at the top of the lists. The same happens with electronics. Nearly all performance charts tend to rank Apple phones and tablets around number three (not the fastest, most reliable, best screens, etc.), but they are the most desired and pricey. We not only love Apple devices, we set them as the gold standard.
By the way, the exact same phenomenon happens for services, including services provided by design firms.
Why did the British railway consortium give the job to design the next generation of trains to Seymour-Powell when it was a little known small firm? Why do several of the largest brands in the world choose firms that do not have equal footing to represent them in front of the world? The answer I find is the same. The chosen firms give their clients a unique, positive and memorable experience.
Thanks to technology and advancements in manufacturing processes, the execution of function at a set price point is easily attainable. As a result, the marketplace has become a price war for products and services. And your firm is part of this war. Far too often, the only differentiator the client considers when hiring a firm or buying a product or service is the dollar sign. I hear designers say all the time: People are not willing to pay what it really costs us to do the project right. And, how can I charge for this project what it is really worth?
For these and many other reasons, the price war is not a sustainable model. The answer is again about designing and delivering solutions that create memorable and positive experiences. Just consider how James Dyson and his vacuums disrupted a product market that was set around $100.00. Before Dyson, the vacuum price war was about selling more for $100.00. Profits were disappearing fast and, in some cases, gone, and every player in that market was suffering. No one believed that customers would pay $400.00 for a vacuum.
Then Dyson came along and not only sold his vacuum for $400.00, but dominated the market and became the yardstick by which the whole industry is measured. Every leading brand in this sector now delivers a line of vacuums that imitates or copies Dyson products. We find another example in the history of Vizio TVs — Vizio became the number one TV brand in the United States from nowhere in just a couple of years.
Now, if I have convinced you that there is a vast amount of evidence that supports the case that the future success of your business depends on you designing and delivering services for the “unique experience,” then you must be hungry to find out how to do it.
In short, the design process needs to change; your design team needs to change; the way you see the world needs to change. And the survival of your business depends on you making these changes sooner rather than later.
How do we get there?
We need to stop designing for people. Yes, you read me right. We need to start design with people. There are so many new research techniques and design tools that have been developed and refined in the past decade that enable us to change the paradigm from “design for” to “design with.” For example, have you integrated participatory designs in your processes? This paradigm shift seems simple but, at the same time, it is a radical and complex change that is crucial for designing solutions that have the capacity to create unique, positive and valuable experiences.
For any of this transformation to happen there needs to be a starting point. Leadership is step one and our summit — Design to Lead, Presented by ASID — will deliver it. Design to Lead will create an atmosphere conducive to planting the seeds in your brain to generate tangible actions that can bring you to the next level of success. We will have industry leaders present you with concepts, opportunities, approaches and ideas that will make you think differently.
But this is not your normal conference. The learning will not end on the last day we meet at the conference. We expect participants to continue the experience by taking one, just one, of the opportunities we present and putting it into practice.
You will report back which action you are you going to put into practice as well as the goals and expectations you have. And then you will come back on a regular basis to let the community know how it’s going. The point is that, for the first time, we can share the tangibles of the actual event and also the consequences of our actions so others can learn and be inspired. This is leadership. By participating, you will become part of a special community of connected design leaders.
For more information and to register for the ASID Design to Lead Summit, visit www.asid.org/designtolead.
Victor Ermoli, dean of the School of Design at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), will guide attendees through their experience at Design to Lead, presented by ASID, which will be held May 2–3 in Atlanta.