Interactive Marketing: Design Matters

Design matters.

Nowadays it’s not only designers who know that truism. Everyday Joes get it. They recognize bad design. Bad design can break a product. It’s not just about how pretty something is, although that can certainly be part of it. Fact is, smart design solves problems. Weak design frustrates people. It’s not just aesthetics. Industrial design and user interfaces play an increasingly important role.

I’m a card-carrying member of the Apple cult. I’m a digital music freak with not one, but two, iPods. I’ve got almost 2,000 photos stored in iPhoto on my computer, and I’ve made more DVDs of home videos than I care to admit to. In an office filled with Windows machines, I’m one of the holdouts, clinging tightly to my 17 in. PowerBook. The IT people won’t leave me alone, pounding their fists on the desk, shouting about non-standardization like some kind of Dilbert cartoon. I don’t care.

Because it works.

It does what it’s supposed to with minimal effort from me. And it’s gorgeous. Nearly everything to comes from Apple is beautifully designed, from the boxes iPods come in to the machines themselves and every detail of the user interface. It’s stunning, and it works — plain and simple.

Apple’s focus on design is one of the key forces causing Everyday Joes to be so picky. But it’s not the only one. People are busier than ever. We’re working longer hours. Three TV networks have evolved into cable systems providing literally hundreds of programming choices at any given moment. The Internet has become mass media, perhaps the world’s greatest research tool and a seemingly endless supply of entertainment options. It can be overwhelming.

Today’s young adults, teens, and kids will have an extraordinary edge over the rest of us. They’re growing up with sensory overload and are remarkably capable of navigating a massive sea of choice. Here’s the rub: they demand ease of use, instant gratification, and total control. Put another way, they demand good design.

The Internet taught us a lot. One lesson is consumers can and should be in charge of media. We have innumerable choices. This vast universe cannot possibly be navigated with poorly designed interfaces and products.

Apple and other companies that historically excel at product and interface design raised the bar. Music comes digital, stored in the ether and on hard drives. The iPod is a remarkable machine that makes it easy to navigate and enjoy 10,000 songs, or more. It’s a brilliant demonstration of good design’s power. And nearly every member of the white earbud cult knows it. They’re starting to expect it from everyone and everything else.

Technology has brought with it an explosive amount of choice. Design hasn’t always kept pace with choice. This frustrates consumers. Something like the iPod makes it all snap into focus, and people want to apply the same solution to other problems. I’ve always wished I could TiVo all kinds of stuff that’s not on TV. Radio, every day life. TiVo’s simple instant-replay function enables you to just hit the back button a couple times if you miss something. Why can’t everything be that easy?

Design matters because it facilitates problem solving. This applies to everything, from products to interfaces to packaging and every marketing detail. It’s especially critical on your Web site and in all your interactive marketing. Interactive design is still relatively new, and it can be hard. But it’s powerful, because it can solve problems for customers in unprecedented ways. That will sell products and create loyal customers.

Don’t underestimate the importance of good design. It can be difficult to get right, and that can make it expensive. It will pay off in the long run.

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