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Design Led Thinking - Why Now? (Part 1 of 2)

I was fortunate to have been invited to the 4th annual Human Computer Interaction 2012 (HCI) conference as a chief guest, which was held in Pune in April 2012. After pondering over different topics, I decided to talk about something that I feel very passionate about which is 'Design Led Thinking - Why Now? Why in Emerging Markets?'. This blog is a synopsis of my talk at HCI and represent my thought on this topic. I would like to know what you think on this subject, so please, let the comments flow freely.

As someone has said 'Good design goes to heaven and bad design goes everywhere'. This is so true in our everyday life where we find badly designed web sites and products all around us. Following three examples are great stories (websites) of how bad a product can be designed which violates pretty much all of the wisdom out there about design principles.



But then one would wonder - what is a good design. There are lots of definitions, views and opinions out there on this subject. The one I found most comprehensive and relevant is from Dieter Rams which describes a good design with 10 key elements such as:
- Innovative
- Makes Product Useful
- Asthetic
- Environmentally Friendly
- As Little Design As possible
- Makes a Product Understandable
- Unobstructive
- Honest
- Long-lasting and

- Thourough

(Please visit http://startupsthisishowdesignworks.com/ for more details)


While bad design is all around us, there are some excellent examples of good design such as TESCO HomePlus virtual subway store created in south korea (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fGaVFRzTTP4). This is a great story which incorporates innovation, simplest design, aesthetics, usefulness and many other characteristics of a good design. Flipkart, Samsung, Apple, Pinterest are few of the great stories where design has been numero uno differentiator for them. At the same time, Nokia and Sony has been examples where they no longer produce break through design ideas as before and hence, has been in decline for a while now. Nokia may bounce back with Lumia 900 but yet to be seen.


So, what's different you may ask especially, if the good and bad designs have been around all along? Why is design or design led thinking for creating new products is important in current market conditions? There are many reasons but I would like to stay focused on three key reasons as to why design led thinking is stealing all the attention in the world in this decade.

Reason #1 - Data consumption is exploding through the roof. As per research done by University of San Diego, US alone consumes 10,485 Trillion words. This is significantly more than what it used to be even few years ago. With the infrastructure, internet and smartphones becoming available and affordable in the developing economies like India, China and Brail, data consumption will not see decline for decades to come. The following picture nicely articulates how US alone consumes data.



Reason #2 - Attention span is shrinking - Our lives are becoming busier and attention span is shrinking day-by-day. Websites are becoming less content centric and more design oriented. Competition is getting fierce and visually good and working product designs are driving revenues. Fifty years ago, our primary mode of consuming data was news papers, then came affordable books or large number of people started buying books, then came eBooks (Kindle, iPad etc.) followed by all kinds of blogs. After blogs came Micro-blogging and now, there is a trend of picture blogging like Instagram. Following picture depicts how our modes of data consumption has changed as a result of lower attention span.



The result of lower attention span and yet, data consumption only going upward means that there is need more than ever to create an impact via highly innovative product or website designs.

Reason #3 - Key trends changing job of CMO - As per IBM global CMO study, there were three primary reasons cited as primary charter for CMO. 1) Empowered customers are NOW in control of business relationships 2) Delivering customer VALUE is paramount and 3) The pressure to be accountable requires new approaches, tools and skills. CIOs and CMOs are now equally being held responsible for revenues and profitability of the products / company. Also, given the consumer driven market, customers are in total control to decide fate of any product and all of the social networking has made that even more easier. Result of these factors is that CIOs and CMOs want to quickly take ideas to market as a beta product, experiment with various ideas / designs and incrementally build the product to avoid failures late in the cycle. To achieve such an objective, one would need to adopt  and embark on  'Continuous Design - Continuous Innovation' journey.


For what its worth, design has hit prime time in Silicon Valley and as per one study, the valuation formulae for talent acquisition is:

- $1MM per developer

- $500K per MBA and

- $2MM per designer

If you put all of these together - there is certainly a strong case for 'Why Now' as far as design led thinking goes. What do you think? What has been your experience? Do you have stories to share? If so, please go on - comment.

P.S.: Special recognition to my friends and colleagues Aditya Karle, Rajiv Mathew and Nagarjun K.

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Reader Comments (2)

Mahesh, you are touching on avery an interesting topic, and especially now when there is a clear economic shift from the developed countries to the BRIC and now Africa too.

As they say "Need is the mother of all inventions", and thereby design to support an invention is a result of a need too.
No wonder some of the most fantastic inventions and designs were realised during wars, industrial and economic revolutions. In-fact wars have contributed to some of the most fantastic inventions, as insensitive as it may sound, but it is true.
The west witnessed a huge outburst of inventions and there by designs to support them; some very successful and some not as much.

The India or largely the global south is going through a similar phase, and a similar sense of urgency too. But fortunately for us it's not a war but an economic revolution.
Whats also unique to India is the immense population and the overall demography.

India will need to satisfy design needs on two accounts:

> The first would be as you rightly mentioned, "not just value for money, but value for many". Frugal innovations that are cost effective and game changing are absolutely essential.
The definition for good design in India will definitely depend on what the design has to offer for the masses.
I feel vexed when people remark a Tata nano for instance, in bad light, a myopic view of what's the true meaning of good design is harmful. I reckon, a Nano as a beautiful design, not just for its capability as a machine, but for how it is revolutionising the auto industry in its own unique way,and how it caters to the need of the indian market.
By the way, some of the frugal innovations mentioned in the second part of your blog map quite well to Dieter Ram's key elements of good design.

> The global south is also expected to cater to needs of the global north and some of its own maturing (at a fast pase) local markets.

Interesting times ahead.

March 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAditya Karle

Thanks a lot Aditya. I totally agree with you. It is exciting time ahead.

March 27, 2013 | Registered CommenterMahesh Baxi

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