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MARKETING: Products Design As A Growth Generator
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Can investing in product design grow a business? Well, when talking about ’true growth’, the focus needs to be on top line growth, since it is not possible to create ’true growth’ by reducing costs. In the long term marketing alone cannot generate top line growth. At the end of the day, it is all about having the right products and being able to create and develop products and services that impresses and thrill the customers continually. Growth is coming from the customers and the customers want to have attractive, seducing and value creating products – very often from companies with a clear and attractive market profile. No matter how you see it, the product (tangible or in-tangible) is the most effective alliance between the company and its customers. And if you do not pay attention and spend money on product design the alliance will become weaker over time.
 
In short, product design contributes to the development of the continued growth and revitalises the continued demand for the product. 
 
How is product design consumed?

Human beings use all senses when judging a design- either conscious or un-conscious. The customer judges weight, temperature, smell, colour, form, aesthetics, function, ergonomics etc. Design is the connection between art and technic, between producer and user, between tradition and innovation, the rational and intuition, logic and emotions. 
 
Our judgement and valuation of a product is done very quickly. It often only takes just a few seconds for us to decide whether or not a product is appealing. That is why product design is so important. The battle to win the customers attention and sympathy is very tough. The goal of product design is to strengthen the company’s value and image. 
 
Customer insights is a key ingredient in product design

The design process very often begins with customer insights and a unique understanding of the customers, which is created by both facts and intuition. The uniqueness is often the more difficult part, because this is where the company needs to rely more on intuition than facts, because facts can be generated by everybody. Successful, innovative companies very often demonstrate a good intuitive understanding of the customer’s desires, needs and behaviour. 
 
Many companies have plenty of data, but it is all about how the data is used and shared across depart-ments. Some departments see things others are incapable of finding. Customer data is key and how it is used defines the likelihood of success in any innovation.
 
Most product designs fall under one of two categories: ‘demand-pull innovation’ or ‘invention-push innovation’. Demand-pull happens when there is an opportunity in the market to be explored by the design of a product. This product designer attempts to solve a design problem. Invention-push innovation happens when there is advancement in intelligence or technology. This can occur through research or when the product designer comes up with a new  idea. However, no matter which kind of innovation it is, it must be built upon unique customer insight; otherwise either of them will be too risky to conduct as the likelihood of failure is too big.
 
Innovation and product design need the right organisational conditions

Innovation in general and product design specifically are not easy tasks because there are often many stakeholders involved in the process and they all demand something different from the innovation team and from the design process. The manufacturer is concerned with production cost, the purchaser looks at price, appearance and prestige value, the end user is concerned with usability and the attractiveness of the final product and the maintenance department focuses on how well the final product can be main-tained and serviced. It is the product designer’s job to incorporate those needs and concerns in the design and then at the same time be forward looking and bold. 
 
The organisational set-up can support the innovation culture in a company or do the opposite; kill it. Sus-tainable growth is not likely to be generated in stand-alone and uncoordinated innovation initiatives. In order to create healthy innovation, that can be a sustainable competitive force, it is necessary to establish an organisational culture with common and coordinated ambitions across the company’s disciplines and departments. This is not something that just happens. It takes well-defined strategic goals and established operational objectives in order to make sure that the value creation actually benefits both the market and the bottom-line of the company. The reality in many companies is that business objectives are controlled by a set of bonus measures and are structured in organisational silos. This creates internal frictions and tends to benefit those who focus on day to day business more than on long term innovative development. Instead, the overall strategy must be shared and owned across the company with a very clear link to how each department – and ultimately individual – contributes to the success and achievement of the strategic goals.
 
So, the innovation design process needs to be very closely linked to the overall strategic goals and to all stakeholder concerns in order to succeed and contribute to the company’s growth. 
 
However, sometimes it will be beneficial to let the innovative product design process have a life of its own and be more loosely connected to the rest of the organisation, at least in the beginning, in order to make sure that the organisation and the organisational processes for approval etc. do not take the innovation and energy out of the process before it has even begun to develop results or hypothesises. It can be very difficult to do ’thinking-out-of-the-box-work’ in a firm’s organisational and approval structure that is created mainly to support the daily operational processes. 
 
So it is a balancing act. 
 
Even though innovation is difficult, and to some extent risky, it does create new business opportunities. Innovation is to go from vision to market in a structured process. Stand-alone and simple ideas are not strategic and big ideas demand insight. Be open and curious, and at the same time critical and analytical. 
 
Product design process

When looking into the literature about product design, there are many different kinds of processes for how to design. Common to most of them is that they are very simple and often only divided into 3-5 steps. This is a very simplified way to look at a very complex matter, and therefore each company has to carefully create the right kind of product design process that matches the company, the market structure and the requirements in general. However, when categorising the innovation project at hand, it is a good idea to do it before creating the design process. See the figure below for inspiration. 
 
Product design in China

China has a rich history of creativity and product innovation. Some of the more famous examples are the invention of paper, gunpowder, printing and the compass. So product design innovation is part of the history and will also be a part of the future. 
 
Today, China seems to innovate in a different way to the rest of the world. What China does better than most (maybe even all) Western countries is to innovate by commercialisation, as opposed to constant research, perfecting the theory and refining the end result, like the West does. When the Chinese get an idea, they simply test it in the market place. They are generally not afraid to do three or four rounds of commercialisation to get an idea right. Conversely, the Western companies tend to spend the same amount of time on research, testing and validation before trying to take products to market. The risk of market failure is somehow not as frightening in China and the Chinese consumers tend to give the company a second and third chance as long as the improvement is visible and profound. 
 
China is in a period of change, which it seems like this country is in all the time, but this is a more profound kind of change. The Chinese will become innovators, rather than emulators, over the coming decades as investment in human capital moves China from manufacturing into the service sector. With its huge population and ability to make rapid far-reaching decisions, and the wide spread of wealth accumulation , China’s demand for design and design thinking keeps expanding. All creative people in China can look forward to being part of this journey;  both as innovators and as consumers.
 

By Heidi Skovhus 
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