You can have it in any color, as long as it’s black

In the early 1920s, 80% of all cars on the road were black, largely due to the dominance of Ford’s Model T. The Model T was famously available in “any color, as long as it’s black,” as stated by Henry Ford. Standard black cars were cost-effective as standardization helped speed up the assembly line. Colored cars, on the other hand, required custom (and expensive) paint jobs, which often wore off in a matter of months.

The problem? With the Model T dominating every city and street, drivers were known to get confused about which Model T was theirs. Some would even drive off in the wrong vehicle. There was no differentiation to help distinguish a consumer’s vehicle from the other.

General Motors (GM) released six new cars in September 1923, each one bright blue, with orange or red racing stripes; this was the result of a new kind of automotive paint recently introduced by the DuPont Company. Their “Duco” paint products were higher quality than their competitors at the time and were available in several colors.

While Ford had the competitive edge for many years, General Motors was quickly catching up. Before 1923, the competitive edge was providing drivers with functional cars that got them from Point A to Point B at an affordable price. GM was then able to mass-produce their cars in several different colors, creating a new product differentiation and option. This gave consumers the ability to choose a car that matched their preference and personal taste.

In the case of GM and Ford, great design helped GM’s sales to explode, while poor design cost Ford 50% of its market share. Thoughtful design with a focus on audience needs has the power to differentiate in a crowded market to position your business for success. Let’s take a closer look.

Design Simplifies the Solution

Great design performs, converts, astonishes, and fulfills its purpose.

The market is flooded with similar products, and the make-or-break decision for a consumer is often a product’s design. Smart companies are now embracing the concept that customers care about solutions, not features. As a result, companies are increasingly focusing on the intersection of form and function to create the simplest solution possible for their customers.

Great design means stripping away the unnecessary bells and whistles, leaving products more intuitive for users and cost-effective to produce. A company’s design needs to emphasize the usefulness of a product while also disregarding anything that could detract from it.

Great design is not just what looks good. Great design performs, converts, astonishes, and fulfills its purpose. Societal pressures from economic, ecological, and technological preferences are constantly altering how people feel about products. It is vital for businesses to listen and respond to the needs and desires of their target consumers. Businesses must produce creative and innovative product designs that are simple, yet get the job done efficiently.

In the Internet age, customers can do their research and give feedback to companies about what they need from a product. This presents a massive opportunity for companies to adapt and improve their offerings over time. However, failure to embrace and adapt to design feedback can result in negative product reviews and lost customers.

Design Turns a Commodity into a Specialty

Great design converts a commodity into a specialized solution that companies can charge a premium for.

Commoditization is most business’ worst nightmare. Low margins and minimal differentiation mean tough competition and small profits. Coffee, milk, and even some cleaning products perfectly fit in this category. While some companies take part in the pricing race to the bottom, others take a different route.

Great design converts a commodity into a specialized solution that companies can charge a premium for. We see this all the time with Apple – their products, such as the MacBook, serves as a specialized product in a space that is a commodity for all but computer experts.

We see this in other commodities as well. While it’s not an issue to find regular glass cleaner, bleach or dish soap for under $2 at a regular grocery store, there are similar products that tend to offer something that their competitors don’t. Cleaning products such as Method and the Good Home Co. can charge a premium because their packaging highlights their sustainable materials that are animal-friendly and climate-conscious.

Design Highlights the Value of Your Brand

Every dollar that a company spends on design or user experience generates an extra $2-$100 for their business.

How much is your company investing to design your product or brand? According to Peter Eckert,CCO, and Founder of projekt202, “Every dollar that a company spends on design or user experience generates an extra $2-$100 for their business.” Brands that invest heavily in the design set a powerful first impression for customers and potential employees, which build the perception of them as an industry leader. This can drastically improve customer and employee retention.

Let’s look again at personal computers. Companies like Toshiba and Dell are known to offer inexpensive laptops. These laptops have the basics: good screen quality, workable keypad, easy access to the Internet and menu screen, etc. However, Apple’s MacBooks have dominated the design game in every aspect of their product design and user interface. This design advantage is the primary difference between a $300 laptop and a $2,000 one.

Many companies like Apple participate in innovative design to continue highlighting the value of their brand through their product research and development. This can both be a breakthrough product or service, and a redesign of an existing product or service. Innovative design adds never-before-seen value and function to the market and the user, while a redesign improves an existing product.

Design is a competitive advantage today, just as it was in the early days of GM. It can capture consumer desire, speed up production, and reduce costs. Whether manufacturing personalized vehicles or innovative computers, the companies that grasp the importance of design are more likely to win in a crowded marketplace.

Ready to start taking your product design seriously? Learn more about our design services to see how we can help you build your competitive advantage.

About the Author:
Emerson Stone is a product-centric design agency based in Boulder, Colorado. They help brands to take their business to the next level through branding, strategic consulting, application development, product development, and much more.