Design and Meanings

Design and Meanings - DESIGN AND MEANINGS fi lzluumléim...

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Unformatted text preview: DESIGN AND MEANINGS fi lzluumléim izju Mal-urn: heme ill 'l hinge Every product has a meaning. Yet many companies do not care about how to innovate meanings. They strive to understand how people currently give meaning to things—only to discover that this meaning has been suggested by an innovation designéd by a com- petitor. [IN THE ILLUSTRATION 0n the wall: Kartell’s Bookworm bookshelf. The computer on the small table runs Intuit QuickBooks] ANY COMPANIES AC KN OWLEDG E that market compe— tition is driven by products’ meanings—by “why” peo- ple need a product more than by “what” they need in a .2 . product. People buy and use products for deep reasons, often not manifest, that include both functional utility and intangible psychological satisfaction. Consumers, managers, and engineers buy food, consultant services, and software for cultural and emotional as well as practical reasons. This is perfectly natural. We are humans, and when we use prod- ucts, however utilitarian, ' we search for personal fulfillment—for meaning. Studies in various scientific disciplines, from psychology to sociology, from cultural anthropology to semiotics (the study of signs and symbols), have provided so many insights into consumption be» haviors that few people would challenge the statement that “every product has a meaning.” Yet many companies do not care about how the meanings of prod- ucts change or about how to innovate them. They believe that mean- ings are a matter of marketing and communication, and not of R&D. Through user analysis they strive to understand how people give meaning to things, only to discover that this meaning has been sug- gested by a new product introduced by a competitor. But like technologies, meanings may be subject to an R&D process. And the process through which a company can innovate product meanings is design. This chapter illustrates the profound link between meanings, innovation, and design. Design has become a popular topic in management literature, open- ing it to many ambiguous interpretations, from the immediate concep— tion of design as styling to the broader notion that links any creative and innovative activity to design. To find a way through this confusing landscape, this chapter first guides you through well-developed notions of design theorists. It then reinterprets their contributions through the lens of management—especially management of innovation—by focusing on the essence of design: that it is “making sense of things.” This focused perspective allows you to better understand the pecu- liar nature of design and to see how it differs from other innovation processes such as engineering. It also reveals why design is important to creating competitive advantage: design innovates meanings, and meanings make a difference in the market. This chapter concludes by discussing more deeply the notion that every product has a meaning. What’s more, as with technological inno— vation, innovation in meanings occurs in every industry, from food to financial services, from cars to business software. In any industry, de- sign is therefore crucial to competition, because innovation of mean- ings is critical to competition. Companies that do not innovate producr meanings through design lose a core opportunity and leave it in the hands of their competitors. Design: A Kaleidoscope of Perspectives It’s a nice sunny afternoon in central London, even though it’s mid December. The UK Design Council, in the heart ofCovent Garden, is the perfect place to hold a meeting on the future of design in business, and the View of the Royal Opera House is heartening when the discus- sion loses steam. A group of experts is talking animatedly about how to convince companies to invest more in design. On the table, amid a jumble of teacups, biscuits, and notebooks, are scattered the business cards of the participants: design thinkers, professors of design and management, consultants, and business leaders from various parts of the world. At a certain moment, a gentleman on the other side of the table raises his hand and asks the fateful question: “Yes, but . . . what is design?” This question might seem odd amid a meeting of experts. Who would dare or even think to ask, “What is management?” at a meeting of business school faculty? However, I am used to it. Since I began in- vestigating design, someone at every meeting, conference, or debate—— regardless of the credentials of the participants—inevitably asks, “What do we mean by ‘design’?” The definition of design is fluid and slippery. That is not because people do not consider and debate the meaning of design—actually, they do, a lot. The problem is a lack of convergence. Thomas Kuhn, in his groundbreaking study of the sociology of science, shows how new disciplines and theories eventually coalesce around shared principles and norms—what he calls paradigms. But before this convergence oc— curs, disciplines are in a preparadigmatic phase. Well, it is as if the field of design perpetually remains in a preparadigmatic phase—as if schol- ars were afraid of converging on shared definitions and boundaries, fearing that doing so would limit their investigations. As Peter Buten— schon, former president of the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design, noted in a keynote speech at Brunel University, “Discussing design has become an increasingly complex affair, since the agenda seems to be shifting all the time.”I Indeed, the debate is so open-ended that when I asked Ezio Manzini, a respected design theorist and colleague at the Faculty of Design of Politeenico di Milano, whether he could help me under- stand the definition of design, he suggested that I read a book on the history of design.Z Although that may seem like odd advice to give a management scholar—after all, business schools seldom study the his— tory of management—it was very wise, because it encouraged me to avoid the shortcut of simple answers and allowed me to grasp the mul- tifaceted nature of design. Yet to understand the unique contribution of design to companies’ innovation strategy, we need a sharp definition. Given that scholars have debated the concept at length, I will not invent a new definition but rather choose the one that highlights the unique contribution of design to innovation: design as making sense of things. Before elabo— rating on this definition and its implications, however, I first provide a brief overview of other interpretations of design to clarify what I do not mean by design.3 Design as the Form of Products In a 1999 broadcast of ABC’s Night/int, anchor Ted Koppel was about to present a video illustrating how influential design firm IDEO realizes innovations. To introduce the topic, he provided probably the most popular and diffuse definition of design: “Everything we use was designed to create some sort of marriage between form and function. Does it work? And can we make it look interesting or attractive.PM Design has often been seen as the form of products—often in juxtapo— sition to their function. Indeed, many people believe that design basi— cally deals with form. If engineers use technology to make products function, then designers use form to make things beautiful. Of course, modernists questioned the predominance of form—from the claim of American architect Louis Sullivan that “form follows function” at the dawn of the twentieth century, to the aphorism “less is more” of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, one of the directors of the Bauhaus art and architecture school active in Germany between 1919 and 1933. Yet if we look at the most frequent applications of design in business over the past century, they have paid preyailing attention to form and have complied with the dogma that “ugliness does not sell” coined by Raymond Loewy, the French-American designer who is a founding father of “styling.” And most businesspeople still associate product design with beauty. Unfortunately, this concept has little in common with innovation. In- deed, beauty and innovation sometimes even compete. People associate beauty with aesthetic standards they already have in mind. However, novel products—especially those that are radically innovative—do not conform to existing standards: they try to impose new ones.5 Lorenzo Ramacciotti—a past vice president of Pininfarina, a car design firm, and today head of design at FIAT—told me, “When I was at l’ininfarina, often our clients came to us asking for a very innovative concept for a car. Then, when we presented the innovative ideas we had devised, their reaction was, ‘Couldn’t we have something more beautiful?”’ Design as Innovation and Creativity at Large If the notion of design as form is too narrow, many experts have reacted by expanding the concept to embrace any innovative activity. Their first step has been to link design to product innovation in general. lndeed, people have often used the term erzgiaeering dang” or software design to describe innovation that focuses mainly on technology, and many books on design are handbooks of product development. By using the word “design” instead of “development” these books denote a greater focus on the generation of new ideas rather than pure techni— cal implementation, and more conscious attention to user needs.“ Perhaps the best-known definition of design in this regard is that proposed by Thomas Maldonado and adopted by the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID) in 1969: “Industrial design is a creative activity whose aim is to determine the formal qual- ities of objects produced by industry. These formal qualities are not only the external features but are principally those structural and func— tional relationships which convert a system to a coherent unity both from the point of View of the producer and the user. Industrial design extends to embrace all the aspects of human environment, which are conditioned by industrial production.”7 The council has since broadened this definition by adding the design of services, processes, and systems: “Design is a creative activ- ity whose aim is to establish the multi-faceted qualities of objects, processes, services and their systems in whole life cycles. Therefore, design is the central factor of innovative humanisation of technologies and the crucial factor of cultural and economic exchange.” In a progressive extension, design has also increasingly been associ- ated with branding, the ability to understand users’ needs, business strategy, organizational design, and market design.” ' This brings us very close to the short but penetrating comment by Herbert Simon that “everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones.” '0 In this inter— pretation, design encompasses all creative professions that modify their environment: “Engineering, medicine, business, architecture and paint— ing are concerned not with the necessary but with the contingent—not with how things are but with how they might be—in short, with design.“1 This evolution has spurred a vital debate on the need for more design thinking in business.12 As Simon notes, such thinking—the abil- ity to envision new possibilities—is an integral part of being a manager, although business schools have often concentrated on developing stu- dents’ analytical skills while overlooking their creativity.13 Still, how- ever interesting and intriguing this debate, I do not want to contribute to it here. We know that managers need to be creative, but this book has a different purpose: to show how managers can leverage design to enable their organizations to innovate.14 Just as a good art dealer needs to have an artistic attitude but does not necessarily have to paint, we are interested here not in how to design but in flow to do business with de~ Sign. Many of the executives you will meet are not designers— ulthough many have a design attitude—but they create competitive advantage through design. Unfortunately, the broader notions that as- sociate design with any kind of creative activity do not help in this re— gard. They are so generic that if you ask a manager or a friend what design really is, what is unique about it, she will eventually say, lacking any other conceptual foothold. “Oh yeah! Design is what makes things beautiful—it is what adds that touch of magic to my iPod.” ‘5 Neither extreme—one focusing narrowly on the beauty and form of objects, the other seeing design as basically everything—had satisfied my question as a researcher of innovation management. What makes design different from other widely investigated forms of innovation such as technological advance? What makes companies that invest in design suc- cessful in global markets? As I began my search I came across a lamp . . . Design as Making Sense of Things Close your eyes and think of a beautiful lamp. How do you envision it? Is it sleek? Does it have the trendy combi- nations of aluminum and polymeric materials? A round anthropomor- phic shape? Or does it suggest new luxury, with a golden luster, precious glass decorations, and bold geometry? Now open your eyes. What you see is a room, and you are immersed in an intense indigo and violet atmosphere, with an array of shades and nuances from light to deep blue. The illumination is subtle, and you feel comfortable. You see no lamps. You turn toward the windows, thinking it is sunset, but out- side it is night. Then you realize that the light is coming from behind a chair. You slowly move closer. Looking behind the chair, you find a strange device composed of translucent material, three bulbs, visible circuits, and a display. It is Metamorfosi, the'lighting system mentioned in chapter 1. It is made by Artemide, an Italian manufaCturer.16 Artemide is well known in the design world. Founded in Milan in l‘)()l by Ernesto Gismondi, an aerospace engineer who Specialized in rockctry, and Sergio Mazza, an architect, the company has produced some of the most important icons of modern design. These include the 'l‘izio, designed by Richard Sapper in 1972, the first table lamp with a halogen bulb and metallic rods carrying current without electric cables; and the Tolomeo, a lamp designed by Michele De Lucchi and Giancarlo li‘assina in 1986, still a best seller more than two decades later. Artemide’s products have appeared in more than one hundred exhi— bitions in the world’s most important museums of contemporary art and design, from the Museum ofModern Art in New York to the Victo- ria and Albert Museum in London. The firm has also won many design awards, including the European Design Prize, more than one Com- passo d’Oro, and Red Dot. In short, Artemide is a world—renowned producer of beautiful modern lamps. How does Metamorfosi fit into this picture, given that the device itself—as opposed to the light it emits—isn’t even meant to be seen? Carlotta de Bevilacqua, managing director for brand strategy and development at product launch in 1998, provides an answer: “Nowadays every market-oriented company has understood that design is an advan- tage. As a result, all companies can use it. Design is not only a way to give a nice form, but it should rather anticipate a need, proposing a Vision.”17 Chairman Ernesto Gismondi provides another: “As design entered one ofits most difficult phases, we decided to work not as much on the object, but more so on light, especially its color . . . As a matter of fact, we started with a research on the psychological component oflight.” 1” Designing beautiful lamps was simply no longer enough. In its nar- row interpretation as styling, design was becoming a commodity. The company felt the need to be radical in its innovation strategy, to differ- entiate itself from encroaching competitors. Although Metamorfosi did require significant research on new technologies, what Artemide did was to radically redefine the meaning of its product.” The com— pany reinvented the reason people buy a lamp: not because it is beau- tiful, but because it makes them feel better. Indeed, Metamorfosi is based on the concept ofa human light: one that contributes to people’s desire for pleasure and need for human in- teraction. The owner uses a remote—control device to alter the colored ambient light according to his mood and the situation. The indigo blue atmosphere, called “dream,” slowly dims as the owner gets into bed. Other configurations of the light encourage relaxation, interactivity, creativity, and love. This innovatiOn in what people mean by a lamp is radical, because it shifts people’s attention not only from the object to the light (people often buy lamps simply because they will look nice in their living room, forgetting to figure out whether the illumination will be appropriate for their needs), but also from white to colored light— that is, to psychological well—being.20 This example clarifies that design is not solely about form and styling; after all, this lamp is not even intended to be seen. Nor does it support a generic interpretation of design as creativity at large. Instead, it is about a particular type of innovation: the innovation of meanings. Klaus Krippendorff offered a masterly definition of this unique aspect of de~ “I sign in Desigrz Issue: in 1989: [be etymology of design goes back to the latin (ff + rig/MM and means making something, distinguishing it by a sign, giving it significance, designating its relation to other things, own- ers, users or gods. Based on this original meaning, one could say: design is Mméz'flgseme [off/ri/zgs].” l-le clarified that “when [ordinary people] . . . are presented with very personal items, they relate these in the following terms: who gave it to them; how it was acquired; of whom it reminds them; in which circumstances it figured prominently; how much care, service, repair, or even affection it consumed; how well it fits with other possessions; how enjoyable its presence is; how it feels; and how close it is to the user’s definition of him/herself.”“ Every Product Has 3 Meaning Influential design scholars have recognized and endorsed the link be- tween design and meanings?2 For example, Victor Margolin and Richard Buchanan introduced Tée Idea 0fDesigfl by stating that “prod- llcts embody notions of identity that are socially recognized and thus become tokens in the symbolic exchange of meaning.”23 An entire section of their book explores the meanings of products. Studies in other disciplines have also shown that every product has a meaning. By interviewing and observing individuals in their homes, for example, psychologists Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi and Eugenie Rochberg-Halton showed how people assimilate objects into their private lives and give them symbolic meaning as expressions of their experiences. “Things embody goals, make skills manifest, and shape the identity of their users. His self is to a large extent a reflection of things with which he interacts. Thus objects also make and use their makers and users.”24 Sociological and anthropological studies of consumption underscore the role that people and their interactions play in defining the symbol- ism and meaning of products.25 And an entire branch of semiotics stud- ies the language of products.“ Finally, extensive research in marketing and consumer behavior has shown that the emotional and symbolic dimensions of consumption are as important—even within indusuial markets—as the utilitarian aspect emphasized in classical economic models. Sidney Levy’s classic 1959 article noted that “people buy products not only for what they can do, but also for what they mean" and spawned a huge body of theoretical and empirical studies.27 And researchers in marketing and consumer behavior have recently focused on services, where the emo- tional dimension is often even more important.“ Among scholars of innovation management, Clayton Christensen, with his framework based on the “job to be done,” has further sup- ported the importance of targeting meanings and understanding what people are really trying to achieve when they buy products.29 What emerges from these investigations is the twofold nature of prod- ucts. The utilitarian dimension deals with function and performance, and an equally important dimension concerns symbols, identity, and emotions—in other words, meanings.30 The dialectic therefore is not between function and form, but between function and meaning.“ People Have Always Given Meaning to Things An interesting observation that emerges is that the emotional and sym- bolic side of products does not result from recent market evolution toward “postmodern consumption.”32 Meanings have always ruled product success. Witness George Eastman’s understanding in 1888 that people wanted to take photos of their personal lives in the simplest possible way—“you press the button, we do the rest”—in an era when innova- tion was aimed at producing complex cameras for elite photographers. 'l‘oday Toyota’s popular Prius hybrid is not as sleek and chic as an SUV, but it helps the owner save pocket money while saving the planet (which is as cool as having an SUV). Thus, although people may have become more sensitive to the in- tangible, experiential side of products and services, products do not need to become more emotional or more symbolic. These studies sim- ply tell us that every product or service has a meaning and that firms have always innovated meaning. liven the cultural statement that form should follow function—the manifesto of modernism and rationalism—has been aradical innova- lion of meaning. The credo that products should be purely utilitarian assumes that a group ofcustomers regards functionality as a core value. Says Bernhard Wild, chairman of Braun, a German manufacturer of small appliances, “Doesn’t Braun stand for ‘form follows function’ in the purest sense of the word? Yes and no. Braun Design has strived to help free people’s lives. Which is its ultimate goal and function.“33 Yet many companies have disregarded this aspect of their products or have not seen it as subject to innovation. They have continued to improve performance within existing market concepts, leaving a few visionary companies to gain competitive advantage by proposing new meanings. Beyond Market Segments and Particular Industries Just as all products have meanings, those meanings are not restricted to particular market segments. For example, some managers, confus- ing design and luxury, think that meanings are important only in high- end market segments or in a thriving economy. If you think that meanings are not important for your company because your customers are interested only in price cuts and utility, you are saying they are sub- human. On the Other hand, if you operate in a high-end market and think that creating meanings implies simply designing opulent things, you are saying your customers are stupid. They want something more meaningful. In periods of economic downturn, product meanings become even more relevant. Firms must be able to cut costs without cutting identity and value. Products that are cleverly parsimonious and unpretentious may have indeed a strong personality. If they have been explicitly designed for that meaning, people may love them as icons of essential- ity. Customers would buy them not merely because of their low price, but because they would epitomize a smart and responsible way of liv- ing. Sneakers, for example, are not cheaper versions of sophisricated and elegant leather shoes. Simply put, they have a different meaning. Although they can cost as low as one tenth of their luxury counterparts, they have no less value, to the point that people may wear them at work, at events and even at wedding ceremonies. Instead, when low price is the result of meaningless cost cutting, then customers clearly feel miserable and envious of more meaningful, and valuable, products. In this book I discuss cases of innovation of meanings for both high-end and low-end products. (For example, Chapter 5 offers the FIAT Panda as a good example of utility and essentiality as a basic value.) All these examples share a common thread: people love mean- ingful things. Design is completely orthogonal to price segments.34 Nor are meanings restricted to particular industries. Some people, for example, think that emotions and symbols are relevant only in fashion. Nothing could be more wrong. Radical innovations of mean- ing are rare in fashion. Of the dozens of examples in this book, not one concerns fashion. Food has meanings; anthropologists and sociologists often investi- gate people’s identity and culture through their gastronomy.35 Durable goods have meanings; think of Nokia, which transformed the meaning of mobile phones from devices for businesspeople to all-purpose prod- ucts for everyone. Although the function of the product—making calls away from home—remained basically unchanged, people started to see Nokia phones as personal accessories for social relationships; hence the claim “connecting people” rather than offices. Business-to- business products and instruments have meanings. Think of the euro pallet system, which has redefined logistics by giving meaning to the resultu-moving freight—rather than the tool (the pallet) by defining standards and protocols (while also raising trade barriers for non-EU finanufacturers). And many business-to-business components eventu- iilly find their way into consumer products and allow radical change (you will see an interesting example with MEMS accelerometers used in Nintendo‘s Wii). Services, too, have meaning. Think of people moving from tradi— tional to online banking, or the new meaning of air travel provided by low-cost carriers, or the advent of car sharing as a semipublic trans- portation system. McDonald’s changed the meaning of fast food. Before McDonald’s, there were only car hops and diners. McDonald’s served similar food, but the meaning was different. It became a place you could count on wherever you were: safe, clean, reliable. Similarly, Starbucks changed the meaning of a coffee shop from a place to buy coffee to a place to hang out: a home away from home. Safaricom’s sim- ple M-PESA service allows people to use mobile phones, one of the most trusted and popular devices in Kenya, to send money to relatives without opening a bank account, introducing simple telecommunica- tions devices into the world of banking. Even software has meanings (and what could be considered more functional and bereft of form than code?) Think, for example, of Quick- Books, which Intuit designed to address the needs of small business owners for whom accounting is often painful—in contrast to applications conceived for professional accountants. Whereas competitors created applications for people who want to do accounting, Intuit proposed ap— plications for people who actually do not want to do accounting. A significant part of our exploration focuses on products that live inside homes (furniture, lamps, kitchenware, food, and consumer electronics), simply because our inspirational sample of Italian manufacturers is well positioned in these industries. However, I hope that the diversity of my examples from several other industries and markets (see the table in appendix A), supported by findings from key studies, will leave no doubt in your mind that every product has a meaning. After all, we are humans. We spend our entire lives looking for meaning. Who really believes that we can smile at our spouse and chil- dren or cheer our colleagues, and then, after a millisecond, switch off our limbic system and become inhuman when'we drive our cars or buy the next peripheral for our offices? Product Meanings and Languages Our model for investigating design and innovation—illustrated in figure 2-l—shows that products appeal to people and their needs along two dimensions. The first one is familiar to anyone managing in- novation: the utilitarian function, provided by product performance and based on technological development. The second dimension concerns sense and meaning. It is the “why” of a product—«the profound psychological and cultural reasons people use the product. This dimension can imply an individual or a social motivation. Individual motivation is linked to psychological and emo— tional meaning: I use a Metamorfosi lamp because it helps strengthen the parental bond and create poetic feelings while I’m doing infant massage on my baby. Social motivation is linked to symbolic and cul- tural meaning: what the product says about me and others. That is, I buy a Metamorfosi lamp because it tells visitors that I like to explore contemporary home lifestyles and philosophies. A product’s language is its material, texture, smell, name, and, of course, form (style is only one aspect of a product’s language).36 For FIGURE 2-1 Innovation and people's needs Function (technology) Performance Meaning Sense (language) Adapted from isobaric Verganti, "Design as Brokering of Languages. The Role of Designers in the Innovation Strategy oi Italian Firms." Design Management Journal 14. no. 3 (Summer 2003): 34—42. example, in Metamorfosi, translucency and minimalism are the lan- Ig'guage used to express the sense that the lamp is not important, that it (is the light that matters. Many other languages can also help users make sense of things. One example is sound: everyone knows that the distinctive language ofa Harley-Davidson motorcycle is the roar of its engine as well as its form. I once met with Bang & Olufsen engineers while they were testing a prototype of their Serene mobile phone. The prototype had an unusual feature: a small electric motor, activated with a little nudge, that allowed the shell-shaped phone to unfold and fold ' slowly and gracefully. This feature, and the whir of the tiny motor, re— minded me of other famous 8&0 products, such as the BeoSound 3200, a CD player that opens automatically as the user moves Closer and that makes the same buzzing sound. “That is Bang & Olufsenl” I thought, as the sound of the little phone tickled my memory. The product functions themselves are also fundamental in enabling us to make sense of things—thus the vertical arrow at the center of our framework. For example, an array of customizable technical features on the Metamorfosi lamp enables users to control color combinations and light intensity and thus to feel in harmony with the domestic envi« ronment. Technologies are therefore closely related to meanings, and indeed technological breakthroughs often trigger radical innovations in meanings (we explore this further in chapter 4). Nevertheless, although the two dimensions of our model are some- times so entangled that distinguishing performance from meaning, and technology from language, is almost impossible, the distinction between the two dimensions can have a profound impaCt on firms’ innovation strategy and process, as you will see. Indeed, there is a profound differ ence between changing a product’s function but leaving its meaning un- touched, and changing a function in order to radically innovate what a prodUCt means. In the latter case, the ultimate purpose of innovation is to innovate meaning (hence “function follows meaning”). And the impact on business value is much more significant, as this book shows. The Meaning of Bookcases I To become more familiar with the framework in figure 2—1, let’s exam- ine another example of radical innovation of meanings: a bookcase Bookcases are commodities, you may say. Indeed, the Italian market alone sells more than 240 branded bookcases, and small artisan shops provide hundreds of unbranded ones. You may add that a bookcase is a simple product with a straightforward meaning—carrying books—and that perhaps the only way to differentiate bookcases is to provide sim- pler ways to assemble them and affix them to a wall, or perhaps to em— broider them with beautiful materials and ledges. However, Kartell—one of the fastest—growing furniture manufactur- ers in the Italian design cluster—did not follow that path in creating Bookworm. The firm grew 211 percent between 1994, the year it re- leased Bookworm, and 2003—compared with industrywide growth of 28 percent in Italy and 11 percent in Europe during that decade. Founded in 1949 by Giulio Castelli, a chemical engineer who studied at Politecnico di Milano under Giulio Natta (who won a Nobel Prize for inventing polypropylene), the company focuses on plastic furni— ture. Like Artemide, Kartell has created design landmarks, such as the modular container Componibili designed by Anna Castelli Ferrieri, on View at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris; the transparent chairs La Marie and Louis Ghosts, and the plastic sofa Bubble Club, both designed by Philippe Starck. I will return often to this innovative company as we explore design-driven practices, but for now, to illustrate our product frame— work, let’s focus on Bookworm. This unique product, depicted in the illustration at the beginning of this chapter, has contributed significantly to the company’s amazing growth: Kartell has sold more than 200,000 units. What are the reasons for this success? Bookworm represents a radical innovation of mean- ing: it is not meant to be affixed to the wall to carry hordes of books. Instead, it has a more intimate role: to replace a painting. Let’s apply our model in figure 2-1 to this product. The BOokworm has no shape, and that makes it another good exam— plc of the idea that design is not about form. It is along, narrow band of colored polyvinyl chloride, traditionally a semirigid material but here having the flexibility ofa sheet of stainless steel. When the user opens the small cardboard package, the shelf unrolls flat on the floor. The user then bends it into a sinuous shape of her liking. What message does Bookworm carry? What is its sense and its lan— guage? First, it tells us it is not very studious: it cannot hold as many books as its right—angled counterparts. Second, it is not shy: its bold colors and sinuous configuration attract people’s attention to the few select items that the homeowner creatively places on it. Third, it is not ostentatious: its material is plastic and its price is low compared with typical bookcases; it starts at about $200. Fourth, it is personal and unique: it comes in six colors and three possible lengths and can be shaped according to its owner’s imagination. Overall, its nitty-gritty message is, “What am I? I need to be inter- preth to become your personal, unique, ingenious, and shining piece of art.” And indeed, the meaning of Bookworm is not to carry books (one would definitely need to buy another bookcase, perhaps using it as a background fixture in another room). If you look at how people use this product in their homes or offices, you will always find it affixed to their most visible wall, typically at the entrance to their home. Our parents used to hang their most precious painting on such a wall to welcome vis- itors. But young modern householders do not want to buy anonymous paintings from unknown minor artists of the twentieth century, and mas- terpieces ofcontcmporary art unfortunately are not affordable to most of them. However, through travel and hobbies young people have often been exposed to a greater range of cultural opportunities than their par— ents. They can substitute something even more valuable—something that talks about their own knowledge, experience, creativity, and taste: a unique bookcase, one they have shaped themselves, on which to display their preferred books, souvenirs, and trophies. Bookworm’s value is thus not in the object itself(it is not ostenta- tious) nor in its function, but rather in the owner’s personal interpreta— tion (indeed, Bookworm demands sophisticated use, creativity, and aesthetic taste). It helps the user say, “I belong to a cultural elite,” regardless of her wallet. Bookworm thus anticipates and meshes per- fectly with cultural changes in our society. After all, aren’t we living in a knowledge society—one that values creativity and personal experi- ence? Knowledge, creativity, and experience are like personal art for many young households. Aren’t we living in theage ofindividualism? liike tattoos, Bookworm expresses each person’s individuality. Suggesting, Interpreting Meanings result from interaction between user and product. They are not an intrinsic part of a product and cannot be designed deterministi- cally. A company may think ofa product’s possible meanings and de- sign its features, technologies, and languages to act as a platform, a space where the user can provide his own interpretation. Indeed, peo- ple love a product that suggests a meaning but allows them to make it their own companion through interpretation. The meaning of a product can change significantly over time, al— though the object remains unchanged. Many people now probably buy Bookworm simply because it has become trendy. Successful products often go through a fashionable phase. However, we are more interested in the original meaning that allowed it to become so successful. People sometimes give meanings to products that differ greatly from the original purpose. When a company detects, understands, and supports such a shift, its products may benefit from a second life. Consider Skyline, a kitchen produced by Snaidero, a major Italian manufacturer. The initial aim of the project, started in 2002 under the name Skyline_lab, was to develop a kitchen for disabled people, who have trouble using standard kitchens because wheelchairs cannot fit under worktops and cabinets are inaccessible. In designing this product, Snaidero relied on intense ethnographic observation—in cooperation with local rehabilitation institutions—to thoroughly ana— lyze how disabled people use kitchens. The result, Skyline_lab, released to the market in 2004, won the Good Design Award. However, in addition to attracting families and institutions with disabled residents, the product drew the attention of users who did not suffer from disabilities. The rounded form of the worktop, for example—which allows people in wheelchairs to move about easily—had broader appeal, because it increases the work area and allows people to cook without turning their backs on other people. The kitchen therefore acquired the meaning of easier interaction with family and friends. The worktop carousel, which makes items more accessible to people in wheelchairs, also appeals to users who are not disabled. Although Snaidero had assumed that Skyline_lab’s features would prove meaningful for many users, the firm did not anticipate that the biggest demand would come from traditional users. In response, the company released a version of the kitchen addressed to a broader mar- ket. This version became the firm’s best-selling product after only two months and today accounts for more than 20 percent of Snaidero’s rev- enues. Many customers do not know about the product’s origin. As these examples Show, what is truly unique about design—what makes it different from other types ofinnovationm-is that it entails in- novating the meaning that people inevitably give to products. This conception shines a spotlight on the cultural dimension of products and consumption, a perspective that innovation managers often over— look when they think only in terms of improving performance. Innovating design requires managers to ask, What is the deepest reason people buy our product? Why is it meaningful to them? And most of all, How can we gratify people and make them more content lay providing products that suggest new meanings? I know you can im- mediately provide a long list of answers to these questions. However, l would not be surprised if these are the same answers your competi- tors would give. Therefore, please do not answer immediately. First, take a deep breath. ...
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This note was uploaded on 10/29/2011 for the course MKT 16 taught by Professor Lilianyoung during the Spring '11 term at ITESM.

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Design and Meanings - DESIGN AND MEANINGS fi lzluumléim...

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