good design is good business

When I graduated with my degree in graphic design, it was a different world. And I’m not talking about the digital divide. Working with computers or without them has nothing to do with creating ideas — the essential element of design. I’m talking about the change in the world’s acknowledgement and acceptance of good design as something valuable.

It’s been 35 years since IBM legend Thomas Watson, Jr. uttered the words “Good design design is good business” in a lecture at Wharton School of Business. The forward-thinking Watson, who hired designers like Paul Rand, Charles and Ray Eames and Eero Saarenin, though, was ahead of his time.

When I furnished my new house in 1985, I had to buy expensive European fixtures to find anything I liked. However, I recently replaced two bathroom faucets — and I bought them at Home Depot. (OK, I did have to special order them; they didn’t stock them on the floor.) And I can now find frames I like for the artwork I want to hang in the house, (and the few family pictures), at Target, whereas I used to have to get them custom made.

When I graduated, Newseek magazine didn’t publish issues entitled “Design Gets Real: How It’s Changing the Way We Work and Live”, or business magazines like Fast Company’s annual “Masters of Design” issue or Business Week’s article on “The Man Behind Apple’s Design Magic”. The Harvard Business Review claims “the MFA is the new MBA.”

Design is hot. And valuable as a strategic perception-changing tool — or at least it was. During a recession it’s not surprising to hear designers talking about the value of what they do. Companies right now may be less likely to invest in non-mission-critical activities like design. And yet there is likely no better way to look more successful than you really are. Branding guru Marc Gobé said, “I believe design is the most potent expression of a brand and that ultimately bringing powerful ideas to life through design is the best way to create a lasting link [with] the customer.”