marketing-driven or design-driven

Years ago we were working with a marketing executive who managed to repeat the same phrase in every single meeting we attended. She would always work in the phrase “marketing-driven solution”, often in the form of a question. Was our proposal a marketing driven solution? What about the headline? It got to be a joke around the office. Does this color look marketing-driven? This paper stock? What about that typeface?

That was fifteen years ago. Today, design-driven companies are the topics of conversation. I.D. (International Design) magazine published a list of the 40 most “design-driven companies in America”. Obvious selections were on the list: Apple, Gillette, IBM, Patgonia, 3M. But as business management guru Tom Peters says, “More interesting to me, fully half the companies were service companies. Amazon.com made the list. So did Bloomberg. Also: Federal Express. CNN. Disney. Martha Stewart…even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” (Note to local readers: that’s the actual quote.)

Coca-Cola’s Vice-President for Design, David Butler, avoids using the word “design” as much as possible. Though he has written up a 30-page manifesto laying out a design strategy for the company, when he is meeting with manufacturing people, he’ll say, “How can we make the can feel colder, longer?” Or “How can we make the cup easier to hold?” He talks about the benefits of smart design in a language to which those he’s talking to can relate. According to Business Week magazine, this surreptitious approach seems to be working. The new Coke identity work won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Lions awards program in June.

Mohamed Samah, a design socio-psychologist said, “The design discipline itself is expanding beyond ‘form and look’ to include processes and business strategy in general. Organizations are using design as a tool to stimulate creativity and to foster innovation in the market”.

Successful marketing-driven companies are in fact design-driven companies, attested by the success of such divergent companies as Harley-Davidson, Target and Nike.