Design Advantage: How Design Innovation Creates Competitive Advantage
I was recently at a Design event and over an intense discussion on the value of design, an interesting phrase was coined. “Design Advantage” is a good way to explain the competitive advantage created by design. What makes this phrase interesting is that it clearly defines the role of design beyond aesthetics or styling. It frames the advantage of design in bringing true value to the consumer, value that is in line with the brands own strengths. But to do that requires a shift in the way we design. A new approach that is rooted in both user understanding and also design strategy. Only then can design create true competitive advantage.
How is the “design advantage” achieved?
Business value is brought about through different ways. Design can enhance experiences, create differentiation, bring a new dimension of performance, etc. Take the example of the consumer appliance category. In a market studded with powerful global players, how might a strong Indian brand use design for business success. When designing a range of refrigerators with Godrej, the Future Factory team observed that technology was a great opportunity for creating this advantage. But for most people it wasn’t clear how this technology worked, how it delivered a benefit that impacted their lives. And so, the design intent was really about making this technology visible, and strengthening its relevance to users. The result was a design that made people experience this technology in a new way. So they could now see it and understand it, at the retail point of sale. And this created not only user value but also business value. A clear design advantage.
Is the “Design Advantage” about the premium category?
Design must be meaningful in order to create an advantage. So it has to be category agnostic. As long as it builds user relevance, and creates business value, it should work. Here’s another example of the appliance category where design advantage was delivered. When Future Factory worked on the direct cool range of refrigerators, the design intent was to create this value at the lower end of the market. Godrej Edge Pro was designed not only to pack more functionality than others in its class, but also do it at an accessible price point. The resulting design helped deliver a significant increase in cooling efficiency at a sizeable cost advantage. The success of Edge is a good example of how design can work for everyone. It was recently awarded the prestigious Good Design Award from Japan for excellence in design.
Over two decades, the team has worked on several appliances. But across all these products, from washing machines, air and water purifiers, to induction cooktops and air conditioners, design has always been about building this “design advantage”. In one of his lectures in 1973, Thomas Watson Jr said to his Wharton students,” Good design is a business idea”. Thinking like a designer helps you see things differently, in a way that other disciplines don’t prepare you for. This creates a new understanding, and often, a new solution. Not just a good looking one, but one that creates true value for users and business: an Advantage By Design.