Revenge of the Designer – Why the Success of Your Tech Now Depends on Great Design

March 27th, 2010 by Daniel DiRico

Design and technology have always had an interesting relationship. If you look at design trends and the impact of design on the products that we use every day, there is an interesting cycle that seems to repeat itself.

Throughout history, there are bursts of incredible achievements in aesthetics, design and usability that seem to rise out of nowhere. And then, without warning these accomplished designs seem to slowly vanish once again.

And the return to mediocrity begins anew.

Case in point, the American automobile of the 1950’s. Few will argue that this was the pinnacle of design in automotive technology, in both form and function for that time. An achievement only to be followed by the smaller, squarish box-shaped cars of the 70’s and 80’s.

Or perhaps you consider architectural achievements as a form of design and technology and you can’t help but wonder why some of the best architecture around the world comes and goes in waves, as if it were an ocean tide.

Well something interesting is happening again in the world of design and technology and I believe we’re about to see some jaw-dropping creations emerge in the decade ahead. And if you look hard enough, you’ll find this trend has already started.

Whether it is shape-shifting skyscraper with floors that rotate around a center axis in Dubai, or an Apple iPad that completely changes the interface between person and machine, technology lead by creative design has once again returned to rule the land.

What causes this rise and fall trend of design and technology?

In short, the answer is money. Most of the time, great design is prohibitively expensive for most businesses and it is more cost-effective to produce function over form. In other words, it is cheaper to create average design for a technology product.

For example, if an architect has an idea to design a rotating skyscraper, the engineering required to determine the feasibility of such a design could cost millions compared to a standard, rectangular skyscraper. Or if a web designer has an idea to create an impressive and ground-breaking web design layout, the web developers have to figure out a way to code it. And this is very expensive when compared to conventional web design. The same holds true for technology device makers of things like mobile phones, laptops, etc.

Since all other businesses in a given market are equally challenged by the high cost of exceptional design, everyone is less driven to spend precious money on it. There just isn’t a compelling enough competitive force to out-spend the other guy on design attributes alone. And with the exception of a company like Apple, most of the technology we use ends up being part of a larger, conventional approach to design and usability.

But what if suddenly, it is no longer expensive to achieve exceptional design for your tech product? What if the tools designers use became more advanced and allowed them to more effectively bridge the gap between design idea and design reality?

That is exactly what has been happening in the last few years. And it is this advance in capability that causes the rise and fall trend, raising the bar of design, seemingly everywhere all at once.

When it becomes less expensive to achieve a designer’s visions, you can then implement those visions into your products. And when you do this, your competitors suffer. So, they do it too. And as long as it remains less expensive to achieve these designer visions, the winning edge for your product suddenly becomes the design itself. And in technology especially, design equals experience.

Thus the revenge of the designer. They now hold the key to your product’s success.

But this won’t last forever. Eventually the tools designers use for the environment in which they work in will become unable to keep pace with the rising demands for the next great design. And once again it will become too expensive to achieve their visions. And the competitive edge of design falls out of fashion like clockwork.

What does all of this mean for businesses involved in technology?

That may be a trick question actually. There are few businesses left standing that are not involved in technology.

If your business has a website or a Facebook page, then this trend affects you. If your business creates software applications, tech devices, or provides online services, then this trend really affects you. Visual and tactile design has once again become a competitive advantage for businesses involved in technology endeavors. And without this focus on design, you now risk some level of failure in your product, project or venture.

Design’s role in technology is user experience.

In other words, design is no longer an afterthought in technology for the 2010’s. In our near future we will move from simply using technology to experiencing technology, as design resumes the lead role in development thanks to the emerging new tools available to designers. Design is now the objective more than ever.

Additional media supporting this topic is included below. Enjoy.