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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Design Is How It Works: How the Smartest Companies Turn Product into Icons
Article Type: Suggested reading From: Strategic Direction, Volume 28, Issue 11
Jay Greene,Penguin Publishing,New York, NY, 2010,ISBN: 978-1-59184-322-1,US$25.95/$32.50Canada,231 pp.
Design is How it Works is a quick and interesting read, which makes for a pleasant and informative couple of leisure reading hours. While not quite a pulp romance or suspense page-turner, it is for a business tome an engaging read. The book provides a “peek behind the curtain” into these exceptional design successes. Once begun, the book was difficult to put down. The target for this publication is clearly the business executive who has the ability to affect product or services. While not designed for academics, it is well worth an academic review (a connection to the literature will be introduced later). However, as has become the standard for this type of text, the reader should be prepared to see frequent references to prior chapters and a fairly repetitive format from chapter to chapter.
The chapters are less about moving a concept progressively forward than a parade of examples of the design with text explicating the reason for each design’s success. The impact of design is represented by a variety of companies in a diversity of settings which each comprise a chapter: Porsche®, Nike®, LEGO®, OXO®, REI®, Clif Bar®, Ace Hotels® and Virgin Atlantic® (in that order). The author spends quite a bit of time referencing the intense focus on the individual nature of the founder of the design idea and how that personal need fulfillment informed the design which drove its success. Design has frequent entries like; “I created a product for myself. That concept should start to sound familiar by now” (p. 133). While it is admirable that the author lauds these maverick designers for their relentless pursuit of their goal, it is unfortunate that a deeper understanding of what drove the success is not examined.
A single literary reference kept coming to mind as the design message was fleshed out in the book. The concept of customer value lies at the core of the “Design”. While it is largely professed as an individual’s pursuit of need fulfillment the success comes from tapping into a community of consumers which share the same need, whether at the design inception that need was realized or not. Woodruff defines customer value as:
[…] a customer’s perceived preference for and evaluation of those product attributes, attribute performances, and consequences arising from use that facilitate (or block) achieving the customer’s goals and purposes in use situations (Woodruff, 1997).
Each of the products described in this book, whether it is a car, toy, shoe, tool, food, flight, or hotel, has demonstrated the ability to achieve the customer’s goals and purposes. In fact, to further the support of Woodruff (1997) the authors examine two cautionary tales.
Bang & Olufsen® and LEGO®, describe their difficulties with maintaining their markets and performance when design serves a master other than value. Bang & Olufsen® veered too far off into aesthetics and left functionality behind as exampled in a cell phone (p. 5), while LEGO® dove into new businesses driven by the desire to extend the brand, not add value to it (pp. 69-71). The net result to both of these firms was a dramatic decline in performance. At the end of 2010 Bang & Olufsen® was still working on a rebound which they believe can be fueled by design. Where the book focuses on authenticity as the holding the key to designs success and lack of authenticity as the reason for performance stumbles, perhaps failure to deliver value to the customer is more at the heart of the matter.
The only serious criticism that can be leveled at the book is the inclusion of a leading design “A” firm. In this case it is Ace Hotels®. The reason to criticize this inclusion is that the author states “[…] in a few years, this chapter could read more like a cautionary tale than a shining example” (p. 152). While the zeal of the founders is clear, the inability of the author to identify authenticity (customer value) drives the sense of doubt about performance. The inclusion of this firm when another leading design “A” firm, Apple®, is excluded feels awkward to the reader. Apple® is briefly discussed in the Introduction as the undisputed leader of the “design is how it works” model, yet sadly is excluded from the book. Admittedly, it may be difficult if not impossible to “peek behind” Apple®’s curtain, but as the avowed apex of the model, their omission is glaring.
For practitioners, this book is an excellent example of how important problem solution and need fulfillment are in the generation of great products. Also important is the theme throughout this book that great products are only great for those people who require the solution that product offers. The need to make strategic decisions about who the customer is and the relentless pursuit of serving them to the exclusion of all others is not discussed nearly enough. All too often the general business literature is filled with a more-is-more mentality, which is the complete antithesis of the premise in “Design”. Academics will enjoy the real-life examples of how great products are created through customer value. Understanding the need of the consumer, even if it is initially only through the eye of the designer, is a great practical example of theory at work. Marketers should welcome the ability to relate concrete examples customer value, which can be a somewhat amorphous topic difficult to express clearly. All in all, Design is How it Works is an interesting and thought provoking-book good for anyone interested in examining how the singular focus on authenticity (value) can lead to success regardless of the type of product or service.
Reviewed by Robert P. Jones, Retail, Hospitality and Tourism Management, University of Tennessee Knoxville, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA.
This review was originally published in Journal of Product & Brand Management, Vol. 21 No. 2, p. 149.
Woodruff, R.B. (1997), “Customer value: the next source for competitive advantage”, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, Vol. 25 No. 2, p. 139