Product-design driven (PDD) companies achieve their advantage mainly through innovation and high quality product design. A company does not become a PDD company by chance, nor by high quality product design capabilities. PDD is a strategy. Like any other business strategy, it should be built from the top down and it requires vision, plan, budget, and execution. In this article, I’ll shortly describe the 10 main conditions and actions required for implementing a PDD strategy in a company.
1. Make a decision
The first move to become a PDD company is to make a decision and commit to it! A long term decision that top-level management is on board with. It might sounds obvious, but it’s not always that clear. The company’s CEO and directors should agree with this strategy, make a plan, and allocate budget to execute it.
2. Nominate Design Director
Once a product design becomes an integral part of the company’s strategy, a Design Director role is needed. Design shouldn’t be any different from marketing, finance or operations. Someone has to lead it and represent it in the company’s management. This person must have a product design or engineering background as well as management experience.
3. Create design culture
Design is holistic. “Partial designs” are never good designs. Great products coming in cheap packaging or a beautiful product design with poor performance simply doesn’t work. Design should be part of all business aspects – products, packaging, stores, advertisements, offices, service, and so forth. The base level for implementing design in all business aspects is to create a design culture – everyone in the company should understand the importance of design and act in a “design state of mind” and with a “design responsibility.”
4. Develop great design team
It’s obvious that great industrial designers and brilliant engineers are the heart of any PDD company. They are, after all, the ones who translate the vision and strategy into materials, geometry and colors. A great R&D team is more than a group of talented pros. Teamwork, methods, procedures, design tools, and more are essential.
PDD strategy is multidisciplinary. The R&D, marketing, production, and other departments should collaborate in managing and running the R&D process and all other design aspects. The cross-department collaborating is not always “natural,” and it might raise tension. Smooth cross-departments collaboration is crucial for any PDD company.
The term “innovation” is overused nowadays, but it doesn’t make it any less important. Innovation is nice to have in any kind of business, but it’s a must have for a PDD company looking to push its products ahead of the competition. PDD companies should embrace innovation and invest in it.
7. Take risks
Taking risks is part of any extraordinary product design. The logic is simple – there is no big risk in bringing a product to market that is similar to existing products, but coming out with new concepts or innovative solutions is risky. In other words, it’s easy to predict customer and market response to existing products, but there is no way to know how they will respond to new ones. Not willing to take risks means not giving real opportunity to innovation and new concepts design.
R&D means Research & Development – two different types of activities under one roof. In most companies, the R&D department is, in fact, acting more like a “D” department. The work is focusing on the next products’ development while using existing knowledge. The process has specific goals and a tight, short-term timetable. The research part of the R&D work is totally different. It doesn’t deal with products development, but with knowledge, ideas, and insights development. It has vague long-term goals, as does its ROI (which is why it’s more likely than other activities to be left out). Any PDD company must develop strong research capabilities and methodologies in order to enrich its knowledge and create competitive ideas and insights as infrastructure for the design work.
9. Manage product design-book
Any brand company has (or at least should have) a brand-book. The brand-book includes all the guidelines and details for the company’s visuals – logos, colors, fonts, proportions, signs, and so forth. This helps to keep all the company’s visuals in the same chosen language. Does it make any sense to treat the company’s products differently? After all, the products are more of a reflection of a company than its business cards or ads. Any PDD company should write its own product design-book, including guidelines and instructions for the company’s product design. This will help to keep all the products recognized with the brand and it will also save a lot of design work and time.
10. Be meticulous
The devil is in the details! Any great product design is absolutely strict when it comes to the small details. Using the exact and right proportions, materials, colors, prints, texture, etc., can make a huge difference. Imagine a MacBook made of plastic instead of aluminum, a Harley Davidson motorcycle with a squeaky engine sound, or even a loose tiny screw in any top quality product, and there’s goes the quality.
Some might think that only enterprise companies could become PDD companies, but that’s not true. The above points can be implemented in any size business. Yes, it might take time, money and hard work – but once you make it, the rewards are fantastic.