In the past decade, design has gone from a
company activity to a strategic priority and a source of competitive
advantage. A simple Internet search of “product design excellence”
reveals dozens of awards, such as those by the Industrial Designers Society of America and the Medical Design Excellence Awards.
If you’re anything like me, your first
thoughts of “design” might veer toward what you can see – the visual
appeal of a product. Certainly, what is referred to as “form design”
gets our attention – and it is certainly a motivating factor for some
consumer segments. There are going to be some people who want that
leaf-shaped and bright green colored couch even if it’s not the most
comfortable seat in the room.
But design is much more than this. Research
and our own experience reveals two other very important dimensions.
First, there is “function design,” which refers to how well a product
fulfills important utilitarian needs of consumers. Second, there is
“ergonomic design,” which refers to how easy and comfortable a product
is to use.
Dyson vacuum cleaners, for example, while
having an unusual look, have really established themselves on their
differentiated design for function and ergonomics. Dyson vacuum
cleaners, for example, have exceptionally strong suction without the
need to clean or replace filters. In addition, design elements such as
self-adjusting cleaner heads and ball technology make it easier to clean
different surfaces and maneuver around sharp corners.
As firms look more and more to design as a
strategic capability, it is important to consider how the different
types of design work together to impact bottom-line results. Is more
always better or is there a point of diminishing returns? Do different
types of design excellence reinforce one another or is it better to set
priorities for one or another?
Research on Design Strategy
In a forthcoming Journal of Marketing paper, “Designed to Succeed: Dimensions of Product Design and Their Impact on Market Share,” the researchers investigate these questions using a sample of automotive brands in the US light vehicle industry.
Looking at data for 33 brands (from Acura to
Volvo) across 22 vehicle categories (e.g., low price small cars,
large-size pickups, etc.) over a six-year time period, the researchers
analyzed how consumer ratings of form, function, and ergonomic design
drawn from JD Power’s consumer ratings impacted vehicle market share,
calculated based on sales figures reported in Automotive News.