From a desert, from the driest continent, from this land at the opposite end of the globe ...
... as remote as could be in the hockey world ...
... came one of the world’s oldest winter sports trophies.
A cool tradition, a dream of champions, and a story we owe it to our children to tell.
Legends of Australian Ice.
Why drop-dead gorgeous works
A brand is a living entity and it is enriched or undermined cumulatively over time, the product of a thousand small gestures."
Michael Eisner, former CEO of Disney
Why are we quoting Disney? Because Disney pioneered the design of experiences, which we'll come to. Because the idea that a brand is the product of a thousand small gestures still rings true, although it happens a lot faster now. For instance, today we can quickly tell when a website is bad, and we associate that feeling of frustration or disappointment with the brand. Brands can be instantly undermined like that because the experience is shared with millions courtesy of the Internet and the hyper-connectivity of our social-media-fueled society. Our experience of design shapes our opinion of a brand, a club, a shop, a business ... for better or for worse. All around the world customers are flocking to companies that have gained a reputation for well-crafted interactions, whether its your car dashboard, your digital camera, or an app on your smart phone.
Brands that innovate by design succeed by securing a competitive advantage. They raise the bar, turning the competition into stragglers. We explored Apple, the epitome of a design-led organization, in our last article on design. The company that now has a market capitalization larger than the GDP of Switzerland. Its revenue is double Microsoft's, a similar type of technology organization but one not truly led by design. Good design was around long before Apple, but it was Apple that re-educated consumers on its value in the computer industry, eventually supplying it at a competitive price. Competitors have been forced to lift their game and today no-one has a monopoly on beautiful, well-engineered tech products.
It is one of the stories of our time and its message is that design-oriented organizations invest in thinking stuff through. They put design at the heart of their company to guide innovation and to continually improve products, service and marketing. They recognize that a great design leads to differentiation, customer loyalty and higher profits. Customers see these brands as both progressive and customer-centric. It makes them feel good and they are likely to talk about that in the age of social media.
Because design is far from just a marketing thing. It's a genuine source of competitive advantage, customer and employee satisfaction, profit. You don't necessarily get improved performance offering a product that is professionally designed. But you will if you succeed at differentiating its look, feel and functionality from market competitors; if you assess and improve each element of your service or product. That's the kind of innovation that delivers improved performance in a marketplace. And for ice sports in this country, that's precisely what the doctor ordered.
The lessons are everywhere. In the 1990s, the discount retailer Target faced increasing competition from similar stores such as K-Mart and Wal-Mart. It had three options: to specialize, to become the low-cost producer, or to differentiate. The first choice would have crippled future growth and the second was already a battleground. So they went with the third: differentiate through design. That decision led to Target's domination of the mass merchandising market as Tar-zhay, seller of stylish yet affordable goods to the masses. Its design ethos can be found in everything from its product offerings, to its store layouts, to its commitment to innovation. Target are in a spot of bother just now but they are still an exemplar of how great design helps make products and services more delightful, more compelling to use, and more relevant to a rapidly-changing world. It forges consumer support over time, which is why the Target lesson is the book next to Apple. We should never forget it.
Fans want to connect with brands as extensions of themselves ... see them, hear them, interact with them in more ways than ever before. Interpreting brand elements and how fans connect to them is among the most valuable work designers can perform. "Connecting today is a dialogue," says Nike and they are doing it by going straight to where the customer is to the digital world where their multi-channel digital presence fosters open communication with customers, encouraging them to even connect with each other. Nike Digital Sport markets devices and technologies that help users track their own stats in whatever sport they pursue.
Before this, Nike's biggest brand audience was the 200 million people who tune in to Super Bowl, but it now has that figure across all its sites and social media communities. Mainly because Nike communicates across all its product lines the aspirational, active, can-do spirit that its customers crave, promoting it with platforms designed to amplify that energy. Can do, can-do, can-do. Brand expression at its best. Nike sales have increased to more than $25 billion, a 30 percent sales increase over closest rival Adidas, and it was achieved with 40 percent less expenditure on TV and print advertising over the same period!
Social media has enabled Nike to manage its bottom line while simultaneously growing its top line. The impact of design at Nike has increased by unknown multiples. About 25 million people own a FuelBand and although it seems to be on the way out, the company will instead pursue expansion of the NikeFuel ecosystem through high-profile partners like Apple, who are about to release Apple Watch.
The thing about good designers is their empathy. They are trained to be good at understanding and sharing the feelings of others. Keeping end-users in mind helps to reveal inspiration for killer products and services, as well as lowering the risk of failure. Designers are usually the ones who uncover latent needs. They research what people do, think, and feel. They formulate commercial solutions, capitalizing on the discovery of unmet needs. That usually leads to the perception of market leadership which can quickly become reality.
When designers get involved in creating experiences they employ empathy to discover and optimize customer needs. The mode of design will shift dynamically throughout the process interaction, brand, package, product, service, graphic to deliver a critical byproduct: connections between disparate parts of the organisation that may not have even known the other existed. Its a secret that only best-practice companies share.
Disney's Imagineers, the creative force who "make the magic" at entertainment venues such as Disneyland and Disney World, are illustrators, architects, engineers, choreographers, lighting designers, show writers, graphic designers, and other designers working in over 140 different disciplines. The mood in their theme parks is distinct and identifiable, the story made clear by details and props. Imagineering is, first and foremost, a form of storytelling involving extensive theming, atmosphere, and attention to detail.
The story is often told visually at the eleven theme parks, a town, four cruise ships, dozens of resort hotels, water parks, shopping centers, sports complexes, and various other entertainment venues the Imagineers have created. They think of the guest experience as the "The Art of the Show" and every aspect of it is thoughtfully designed to delight. Cast members (employees) are even trained on how to treat guests (customers) to the smallest details, for example, how to smile and wave. Even the experiential intangibles are never overlooked. The ambient sounds and scents that waft through the parks all conspire to immerse visitors in a fantasyland determined to deliver on its promise of being the happiest place on earth.
Imagineers are also called on by other divisions to design experiences outside their theme parks such as the Disney stores and cruise ships, galleries, exhibitions, museums, TV studios, real estate developments and even LA Angels, a professional baseball team and stadium. Little wonder the Imagineers are the fastest growing of Disney's five revenue generators. A documentary on them is planned for release in 2016.
The Australian Ice Hockey League... no, wait ice sports here in general... could do worse than study how they use design and narrative to develop better and better customer experiences that continue to delight. The evidence is there and it should now be very obvious to organisers that designers are well-placed to capture the hearts and minds of new customers, to expand markets through user understanding, to design out the crippling can't-do culture.
1. About Face: The Essentials of Interaction Design, Cooper, Reimann, Cronin and Noessel, Wiley, 2014.
2. Designing Disney: Imagineering and the Art of the Show. Hench, John, with Peggy Van Pelt. Disney Editions, 2003.
3. Angels of Anaheim website + wiki
4. Designing for the Digital Age: How to Create Human-Centered Products and Services, Kim Goodwin, Wiley, 2009.
5. The Design of Everyday Things, Don Norman, Basic Books, Perseus Group, NY, Revised Edition, 2013.