How great are the big consultancy firms in the world! These guys operate spreadsheets 24/7 (keyboard shortcuts only!) and their analysis and reports do magic for big companies who are in need for just that little bit of extra revenue (and/or the need of solving bigger problems, of course). I think we can assume, that when the consultants are done with a company, better times will come. And it just got better, because they found out about the value of design.
The treasure was revealed in the latest issue of the McKinsey Quarterly. This article ends in a great apotheosis: “By combining deep insights about customers, competitors, and cost, a few leading companies are finding the “sweet spot” in product development: lowering costs while designing better products that customers value more.” I think it is great that smart consultants are starting to think out-of-the-box. I see it as a compliment for the design industry. However, the advice from a designer’s point of view would be to give the consultants a small design-workshop.
Do they really need a workshop, or is that just the ego of the designer getting nervous by arrival of the new kid on the block? To be honest, maybe it’s a bit of both. But the main topic in this article is not just good design; it is cost reduction (the word “cost” is in the article 37 times). Co-written by a McKinsey principal, director and consultant, I can see where that comes from. Costs do play an important role in the return on the investment on design, but in order to get people to buy your product, you need to design a product that people will love to use. So, here are 3 tips for our consulting friends.
1. Consumer insights
Getting insights from consumers is the perfect start for product development. McKinsey acknowledges this, but they miss an important factor. Designers read between the lines when they listen to consumers sharing their needs. But the focus is on retrieving needs that consumers don’t know they have (yet). This requires a good focus-group setup; don’t confront consumers with engineers and management, but with designers.
2. Interaction is key
Cost-effective design is important for the company behind the product. Interaction design is important for the success behind the product. Without losing the perspective of cost-impact on design (and other product properties), the focus should be on a perfect interaction between user and product. If you improve this, you’ll improve their life. And that’s worth quite a lot.
3. Study the competition AND the context
A thorough analysis of your competitor’s product is a good reference to improve your own product. But there are much more products your consumer uses. What can we learn from the context of the user? For example, when designing a microwave, let’s not only tear down the microwaves of competitors, but also look at other products this target group uses everyday. For example, if the target group uses a smartphone, shouldn’t a new microwave be equipped with a touchscreen and cooking-apps? Or even better, that you can operate the microwave with your smartphone. Saves the costs of a display, here you go!
In my opinion, product development is the perfect start for designers and consultants to join forces. From the designer’s point of view: let’s work together, I’m sure together we can achieve a lot for companies struggling with innovation. But let’s focus on our specialism. The consultant needs to consult companies about developing cost-effective products and the designer needs to design good products for consumers that will be successful. In this case a product that people love to use, day after day.
About the author: Jelmer Riemersma is co-founder of Veeel designers in Amsterdam with an ongoing interest for innovation and its underlying processes and models.