Design as a Differentiator

Design as a Differentiator

In the inexorable march toward our future as hilariously inferior human slaves to robots, technological advancements in computational power and technical abstraction have already had design impacts for companies trying to sell digital products. In the past, it may have been enough to be able to simply solve a particular problem with technology at all, but in a world with a proliferation of libraries, frameworks, and pre-built turn-key services, it’s getting easier to build complex products quickly. Good design and a focus on UX can be the key differentiator that allows your product to win when doing isn’t enough.

My journey to design began firmly in the world of development, in an era when getting the words “Your knight has been killed by the Gorgon” to display on a black-and-white screen was a big UX win. One of my early contract jobs was building javascript widgets for Lexus Magazine Interactive to do things like hide and show additional content inline in an article. This involved lots of bare-metal javascript and complex timing code to manipulate the DOM with smooth animation. Today, doing similar levels of visual manipulation requires little to no code at all. Similarly, frameworks like Hadoop have made storage and retrieval of huge amounts of data significantly easier, and services like Stripe make it possible to accept credit cards without building a ton of infrastructure to support it. It still isn’t easy to build a complex enterprise application, but it’s definitely easier than in the past, and the time it takes for a competitor to spin up a product that at least nominally competes with your own is substantially shortened.

Being able to solve a problem technologically with your product in a way that no one else has figured out yet may buy you some time, but your competitors will be building their version using more advanced tools than you had. Potential customers won’t care that you were first, or that the competitor’s version is built on open-source software whereas your product is custom bespoke hand-written code; they will make their decision based on features, price, and usability (and weather, political opinion, what their cat had for breakfast, etc.). When all else is equal (and frequently when it isn’t), a well designed product will win over one that is hard to use, ugly, and boring.

While design can be a tie-breaker for customers, its benefit goes far deeper than that. We all use an increasing array of well-designed devices, apps, and services in our daily lives and the expectation that this level of experience stops at the door to our workplaces is massively outdated. The concept of the “Consumerization of the Enterprise” has been around for a while now, and it’s becoming table stakes to have a well-designed product. That means we can’t ignore design as a core capability in our companies, and it’s even more important to invest in great design to differentiate our products from our competitors.

This is the fifth post in a series on designing for enterprise. Check out the previous posts, linked below: