When developing new products for today’s fast paced markets, it can sometimes seem like a fair trade-off to discount aesthetic qualities, with the purpose of achieving lower costs and shorter time-to-market. But more attention to the aesthetic appeal could be exactly what makes a product a success in the long run.
Particularly when operating in very competitive and price-sensitive markets, or if your product relies heavily on the latest technologies and frequent iterations, it may be tempting to prioritize technical specifications or costs over the product’s aesthetics.
However, investing resources in the product’s visual appearance could turn out to pay returns far beyond the product you’re developing today. And there are plenty of examples to demonstrate that.
Good design lasts longer
One obvious example of how good design pays off are classic Scandinavian furniture designs. Though many of them are designed more than half a century ago, they remain admired and attractive to consumers across the world. Of course, functionality and continuous marketing are also a part of the equation. Yet, the timeless aesthetic appeal of these designs is key in making them as attractive today, as when they were first launched.
Another example of this is a classic car design that remains an icon almost 70 years after it was first put into mass production: The VW ‘Beetle’. Though production was discontinued in 1974, due to being overtaken by technological advances in car construction, the car’s classic lines were later revived in the design of the ’New Beetle’, confirming the universal appeal of the design concept.
Obviously, you’re not making great designs today to be a success in 50 years. But the two examples show that some designs transcend individual taste and fashions. Interestingly, the Beetle and several of the furniture designs that are today considered classics were not designed as exclusive high-end products.
Good design adds value – for users and brands
But what if you’re developing products with a much shorter life cycle? For many categories of consumer electronics, expecting your product to survive just a few years in the marketplace would seem beyond naïve. So if your product relies on constant iterations to stay relevant, why would you spend resources perfecting the aesthetic side of its design?
Actually, that’s all the more reason to build a strong design platform to iterate on. One of the companies that exemplifies how a more appealing design can differentiate your product and build a strong, recognizable brand is Apple. The iPhone and iPad are obvious examples; so instead, consider the line of Mac-computers. The company’s notebooks as well as desktop computers go through small iterations on a yearly basis, but the basic aesthetic expression is kept for years. That’s only a feasible strategy because the products are so well designed from the beginning.
Of course, it’s not just the visual appearance of Apple’s products that makes them widely admired and favored. Yet, the aesthetics play a vital part in making Apple’s products desirable to so many people, whether they are meant to be used at home or in the office – and even if these people decide not to run Apple’s own software on them.
Good design differentiates
Admittedly, these are somewhat ‘best case’ examples – the value of aesthetics is not always as obvious in other product categories. You could even argue that for plenty of products, looks shouldn’t matter, only the products functionality and durability. Yet, even products that are hidden can benefit from a more appealing design.
An example from Attention’s own portfolio illustrates this: The Grundfos SE-line pumps are heavy duty submersible pumps used for the removal of waste water in industrial systems. The pump’s function is to move water, and it’s kept out of sight most of the time. But the extra attention paid to the SE pump’s visual appearance (awarded with the Danish Design Prize in 2004) has helped create a strong and continuous brand identity around the SE-line, which continues to appeal to procurers and operators.
It’s easy to think of aesthetics in product design as an excess element that requires extra resources – maybe even at the expense of the product’s functionality. But it could very well be what makes your new product great rather than just good.
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