Whisper & Company

Why Good Design is Good Business

Emanuele Faja


Good design is good business.
~Thomas Watson, Jr. (President, IBM)

While the above quote from 1952 from IMB's former president Thomas Watson, Jr. rings ever true, at Whisper & Company we think businesses don't just need good design, they need great design, and there are a number of reasons for this, but the main point is this: Great Design adds a lot of value to your business, and increases your bottom line.

So before we tackle the question of what is great design, and how can your business can have great design, we should discuss exactly what design is.

What is Design?

When people think about design for business, they might think about branding, logos, websites, company brochures, etc. But design is not just about the aesthetics, it's about how everything looks and works.

Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.
~ Steve Jobs

Does your customer have to wait ten minutes for a receipt when they purchase from your shop? That's bad design. Do you automatically email them receipt if the customer is already in your database? That's great design.

So we can split design into two major categories:

  • How it Looks
  • How it Works

At Whisper & Company we work on both types of design problems everyday. We're constantly helping companies create a strong visual brand that their customers will love, and we also tackle the technical issues of delivering a seamless and intuitive digital experience, regardless if their clients are shopping online, or simply reading a blog.

So, what is great design? And especially, what is great design for business?

There have been entire books dedicated to this subject, but the main points are:

Great design communicates effectively.

This is about communicating the core values of your business to everyone who is outside your business. Your customers, and the general public, should instantly be able to understand what makes your company tick by seeing how your company looks (the brand) and by interacting with your company (in your stores, on your website, with your mobile application).

Great design looks professional.

You can't please everyone, all the time, and that's absolutely fine. It shouldn't be your aim. What is important is having an image that is clearly professional and that looks and feels designed. Your business materials shouldn't look like they were designed by your accountant. Of course, you should have a primary target audience in mind, and you should aim your design primary at them.

Great design is effortless for the end user.

You should be able to create a story that your user can follow, and then you can begin to shape their thoughts, actions, and emotions, and align their actions with the actions you design. A example of this would be a beautiful and functional shop (think Apple Stores) whose main aim is to show the product in the best possible light and to convince the people walking in to make a purchase.

This is different for every business, and the main point is that great design is whatever works best for your business.

So now that we know what great design is, it's worth taking the time to review why it is so important for your business.

1. First Impressions Count

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

The first time that someone interacts with your business in perhaps the most important and fragile moment in the road to turning that someone into a customer or user.

With the average consumer now having daily interactions with beautifully designed products and services (think Apple, Twitter, the new Microsoft), expectations have risen.

Even companies that don't count their yearly revenues in the billions of dollars are now expected to reach similar design standards to companies that do.

At Whisper & Company we make software purchases on behalf of our clients every week, and we almost never purchase software from a vendor that has a bad website or brand. Perhaps we miss out on some great products, but this simple rule works because of the following assumption:

A company that hasn't put much time, effort, and resources in building an awesome brand, probably hasn't put much time in building their product or service offering.

Perhaps this is overly harsh, but more often than not it is an accurate description of the reality.

This is also the reason why at Whisper & Company we went and created our current website. It's highly minimalist, and yet it clearly shows that we've invested in the brand, and that we have a strong core vision of simplicity and clarity.

This leads us nicely to the next point...

2. Great Design can Kickstart Transformation.

With the world and technology moving at an ever-increasing pace, nowadays it is easy to be left behind, but fortunately there is a great way to kickstart the transformation process and leapfrog the competition.

A completely fresh brand for your business is a bold announcement that things have changed. It can go hand in hand with new technological implementations, a better customer experience, and new business processes, or even a new product launch.

You can back to old customers who left disappointed before and honestly show them that things are different now, and they will almost automatically see you in a new light.

Of course, a rebrand must be considered carefully, and it is a powerful tool, but it is not enough by itself, real change must happen within the business.

3. The Halo Effect

The Halo Effect is when people judge one thing based on on the values of something else. For instance, your potential customers judge that your product is better than your competitors not because they have in-depth knowledge of the specifications, but because it simply because the packaging looks better.

This is often called "judging a book by it's cover", and it is something that we all do everyday. This very much links to the point about first impressions.

Why do people often judge things based on their overall feeling about it, instead of objective criteria?

In part, I think that we are now overburdened with information from all sides, that we must rely more and more on our impression and instinctive feeling, and that is where business leaders prove themselves, in being able to instinctively make the right choice, time and time again, without having "information paralysis".

Think about it, what if you wanted a website in the mid 1990s? You could probably contact a handful of digital agencies, now there are tens of thousands, so how do you pick the right one? You cannot be truly objective when deciding on something like this as there is too much choice, and that's why people decide on intuition and gut feeling and restrict the playing field to narrow down the number of choices when making a decision.

4. Great Design Makes Your Staff Proud

If you take the people out of a business, you're normally not left with much else. They are the ones who create the sales, service the customers, create intellectual property, and actually build value for the business. So it's extremely important to make sure that your workforce is highly motivated and efficient, and placing them in an environment conductive to this goes a long way to ensure that your staff produce the best work possible.

The gold standard is this: your staff should be proud of working in your business. Your business having an awesome brand plays a big part in this.

5. Design is the Now the Differentiating Factor

At no time in history has great design been a better investment. Today, everyone has the nuts and bolts.

In many businesses, you can have a lot of the technical details abstracted, and that evens the playing field out for everyone, and so a high level of design and user experience is what can make you stand apart.

Let think about this.

You can launch a mobile app these days, and a whole bunch of previously expensive steps are not just almost free, but essentially automated.

  • Apple or Google will take care of the distribution via their App Store.
  • You can leverage the iOS or Android Software Development Kit to speed up development.
  • You can host your app on the cloud and your cloud provider will take care of all the server maintenance, automatic scaling, monitoring, etc.

Only a few years ago this stuff would have literally cost millions of dollars upfront. Now you can reach millions of active users for only a few thousand dollars. Before you would have to order and ship millions of CDs, distribute them via magazines, run your own server and system operations team, now a small team can do this from a dorm room.

The only downside to this, of course, is that your competition has exactly the same advantages, and so the differentiator is the design:

How does it look, and how does it work?

If you get this aspect right, then you position yourself to have your product or service accepted and used, as this is the hardest part of your product or service development. It' the part that takes the most vision from the people leading the business.

This leads us to perhaps the key thing to consider when running a business.

6. It's all about the user experience

My example about making a customer wait ten minutes to get a receipt when they purchase is an example of bad user experience, and design is the process of creating an great user experience. If the emailed receipt is delivered in a beautiful looking email, as an attached PDF file for easy filing, and you also recommend related products, with a small discount, which the customer will be interested in, then we are reaching the realms of awesome user experience.

The great thing about giving your customers an awesome experience is that it increases your sales, and the more sales sales you have, the more opportunity you have to give an awesome experience to your customers, and so it's a fantastic positive spiral.

  • They've had an awesome experience, so it is likely they will want to repeat it in the near future and buy again.
  • People like to share cool stuff with their friends and colleagues, as it makes them feel "in the know".

We can't stress enough how important the user experience is for a business, but unfortunately it is something that most businesses only pay lip service to, while it should be their primary focus.

7. Design Sells

"Why change? Because good design is very profitable."
~ Pat Schiavone - VP of Design, Whirlpool

You seldom find a terrible looking brand at the top of an industry.

Why is this?

Well, perhaps the companies at the top of their industries make more money, and so they can afford better designers to develop their brand.

Or perhaps not.

Good design is an external result of the reason why the company is at the top of the industry, and that is a superior culture within the workforce.

A culture that rewards intelligence and ambition, and that knows how to incentivise its employees correctly.

Any company with a strong positive culture will never allow itself to have a bad brand, and that's because the brand is an outward reflection of that very culture.

A sloppy, tired brand? It's probably a sloppy, tired company culture behind it.

8. Good Design Last a Long time

Think Brauer electronics, made over sixty years ago and they still serve as inspiration. Think of the Leica M3, a camera designed in 1953, and that is still being copied today by digital cameras. Think of Coca-Cola, designed in 1885, and probably the most recognised brand on the planet.

So it's important that whichever design partner you choose understands that a brand should be build to last.

At Whisper & Company we always start each design project by reviewing the high level goals first of the entire company, and then begin to build a vision for the brand in 5, 10, 20 years in the future, and then working backwards from that vision to create something truly awe inspiring.

You know what's the funny thing about things that last a long time? They add value...

9. Great Design Adds Value to Your Business

I read an interesting point of view recently, that argued that Coca-Cola's brand was more valuable that all of it's physical assets. Regardless of the true answer, it's incredible that it is even being considered.

Think about it: dozens and dozens of processing plants, offices, land, patents, computers, assets, etc etc, compared to a logo, two colours, and a distinctive bottle shape.

And yet, this does make one wonder what would happen if Coca-Cola gave all that up and started from scratch with the same brand.

It is highly probable that they would become the world's leading drinks company again within a short time, and that is the true value of an awesome brand.

10. You are judged by your lowest point

If your work is awesome, but your business brand is not to the same level, then you may very well find that most people judge you based on your brand instead of your work.

Again, this is in a way a sad fact of life, but the packing does also matter, not just the quality of what is inside.


Speak to a Design Specialist Today and Revolutionise Your Brand.

At Whisper & Company we live and breathe design. Contact us to book your complimentary brand consultation, and kickstart your business transformation. We look forward to hearing from you.

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