Tomorrow Now, p. 240
More sophisticated information gathering leads to highly personalized marketing.
Do You Matter? How great design will make people love your company certainly isn't afraid to demand attention. All of the details -- bright orange cover, too-tall proportions, monster san-serif titles, limited color-palate, grid-adherence so obsessive that even the cover format is the same as the pages within -- just scream "I've been overdesigned to look simple!" Combined with the existentially accusatory title, it certainly succeeds in demanding audience participation, but it's a book, not a graphic design experiment, and for it to matter to the audience, it needs to keep the reader's attention too.
Robert Brunner, an industrial designer for some of Apple's most iconic products, and Stewart Emery, author of Success Built to Last, pose a deceptively simple question: Do you (as a company) matter (to your customers)? Perhaps a more intuitive phrasing of their titular interrogative might be, "If you were gone tomorrow, would your customers miss you?" That's nothing new in business circles. It's just a retelling of product differentiation, a mainstay of marketing and competitive landscape analysis. The added value here is in the subtitle: "How great design will make people love your company," and Brunner and Emery are here to explain the role design can play in the competitive arena. The book is targeted at corporate America rather than designers, so Core77's readership ought to be familiar with the design side of the material. That said, design and business overlap, so while designers might benefit from the business side more than they might care to admit, the real benefit would come if a few more middle managers read material like this.
These days, even the pages of the Wall Street Journal and Forbes are singing the praises of design and Business Week even devotes a whole issue to the Best Product Design of the Year. Do You Matter? highlights this newly recognized collision of business and design. Structured as a series of topics by way of case studies on companies who have found relevance through innovation, the book spends a lot of time on the usual suspects: Apple, Nike, Apple, BMW, Apple, and finally, as a coda, OXO, just to make sure the last five years of IDEO and Smart Design consulting work were well covered. While it might be new to some in business, this material should be old hat for Core's readership.
Occasionally the book's endless coverage of the Steve Jobs juggernaut makes it seem like an extended infomercial, but since Apple is one of the clearest examples of a design culture in the world and Brunner happens to be intimately familiar with the company, I can't fault him too much for his Applephilia. The rest of the media is, after all, on the same bandwagon. Trying to explain Apple's success in terms of Apple products, however, winds up sounding more like a string of aphorisms and accolades than a corporate roadmap. Along the way, design laypeople might learn some interesting lessons about the need to be customer oriented and about the way design needs to be a cultural shift rather than an afterthought, but although the design emphasis is new, the core business concepts have been well covered before.
Instead, where Do You Matter? gets interesting is when it addresses companies struggling to figure out just how design can help them matter. The contrast between Samsung's ascension and Motorola's failure to follow the RAZR with another breakthrough product makes for a far more interesting tale than hearing about companies we already know have strong design narratives.
Although the middle of the book labors through a string of somewhat repetitive examples (BMW is an aspirational brand, Whole Foods is a nice place to shop, etc.), the authors close with actionable advice, formulating the acronym "FLAVOR," meaning Focus, Long-term, Authentic, Vigilant, Original, and Repeatable, which actually gets to the heart of what values businesspeople should try to instill in their companies to make them relevant. The real trouble with talking about "Authenticity," a design culture, or mattering from the customer's perspective is that the concepts are elegant and simple to understand, but extraordinarily nuanced and difficult to execute.
The stock market is crashing, housing prices are plummeting and the economy is poised for a severe downturn so I’m reminded of the criticism I heard at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January that innovation is responsible for this mess. A European banker came up to me and and said, “isn’t innovation at the root of all our problems?” “All those new financial instruments failed, right?”
He’s right. So what went wrong? I’ve talked to a lot of folks and the answer lies in the innovation process that took place on Wall Street. Hundreds of hugely complex products based on hugely complex mathematic financial models were created and sold around the world—without first being tested out. There was little or no real-world iterative process. Commercial ankers, hedge fund managers and investment bankers didn’t know what would work or not work in a troubled economic environment, such as one where housing prices fell sharply. In fact, the complex financial instruments were supposed to spread and reduce risk. In the end, they did the opposite. In short, the innovation process was flawed. New inventions were not stress-tested in a real enviroment.
Second, the new financial products were flawed. They were opaque—not transparent. They were sold to investors who didn’t really know what they were buying. Instead, they relied on the rating agencies to tell them the value of the products—if they were AAA or BBB. But that didn’t work. The rating agenices had mathematical models that didn’t work in a period of sharply falling housing prices. In the end, no one really knew what the new products were worth. Worse, when trouble came, those who sold them didn’t know how to fix the products. And they didn’t take responsibility for replacing them—in part because they didn’t know what they were worth. Again, bad innovation process.
There is a great new book out by my friend and colleague Stephen Baker called The Numerati. It’s about the rise of a new class of mathematicians, computer scientists and numbers people who collect the growing mass of data we emit and create new things based on the patterns and similarities. Think Google. The Numerati are the people who rule the data—and our lives.
My one question to Steve—have the Numerati caused the crisis on Wall Street by innovating new financial products based on bad models and poor process? And do we have more to fear from them?
Banks and brokerage firms invented new, complex products – many of them exempt from regulatory controls – to support growing numbers of risky mortgages.
Financial deregulation and the creative debt products that resulted made many on Wall Street and on Main Street wealthy, but they have left taxpayers to pick up the tab."
Nussbaum and Michaels do agree about one thing: both believe it's a lack of transparency that caused the crash, Nussbaum citing the opaqueness of the new financial institutions, Michaels citing the lack of oversight and regulation on the financial institutions.