Posts Tagged ‘industrial design’

Do B2B products have to be ugly?

Here’s some terrific insight from my interview with industrial designer, Sami Elsaden. Sami is President and CEO of Ignite USA—a firm I featured in the Marketing-Playbook. Sami explains how industrial design plays a key role in the brand and product launch of many companies, and especially those in the B2B world.

Ignite turned an ugly industrial computer rack into something beautiful
Ignite turned an ugly industrial computer rack into something beautiful

A product’s performance may be paramount in the purchasing decision, but outward appearances are playing an increasingly important role. More and more, startups are discovering that sales rise exponentially when their product has a well-conceived look. In other words, it pays to decorate the cake.

“Industrial design is a visual way to communicate a product’s benefits, its power of technology,” said Sami Elsaden, President and CEO of Ignite Design, a full-service industrial design firm in Chicago. “It’s a visual language implemented through color, material and form.” And, in many cases, it has become the trump card in competition.

A Visual Step Up

Cadant Technologies used industrial design as an effective way to compete, to differentiate its cable data network system through a sophisticated and unique outer casing. When newcomer Cadant began grabbing considerable tradeshow attention, competitors responded with ads belittling exterior considerations. Unfortunately for the competition, Cadant’s innovative design served as a visible portrayal of its futuristic technology and reliability. The winning combination of design and technology was difficult to compete against.

Startups today spend substantial dollars to develop technology, and more companies are choosing to complete the picture through packaging. Even equipment that sits in the back of a data center can benefit from an external overhaul. “Industrial design is now viewed as an opportunity to feature backroom products, instead of hide them, much to the liking of CEOs,” Elsaden said. “It’s an idea that has invaded many aspects of our lives. At home, we enjoy upgraded electronics. In restaurants, once-hidden kitchens are now frequently showcased. In industry, well-designed products have become cool, flashy…a branding opportunity. A $500,000 mission-critical computer has to look the part.”

Begin with Branding

Indeed, understanding your corporate brand is step number-one in the industrial design process. Design is typically based on marketplace objectives and will reflect how the product is positioned, i.e., low cost, unique, high performance. Prospective clients should have a clear idea of their competition platform before meeting with an industrial design firm and be able relate it to a team of industrial and graphic designers, as well as mechanical engineers and quality assurance specialists. Plan on starting the initial design phase six months prior to your product launch date or a trade show debut.

The second step is knowing the target audience. “Research is a very big part of the design process because we have to depict visually what’s important to the end-user,” explained Elsaden. “Ideally, we like to watch how people interact and study behavior first hand because there is a disconnect between what people say and what they do.” For instance, an Ignite team traveled to Western Europe and studied where modems were being placed in the home environment for one of its clients, Tellabs. Research data in hand, Ignite discovered the target audience could be divided into four different exterior types (classic, soft design, Scandinavian, minimalism) and cost effectively designed one cable telephony housing that blended with every decor.

Investing in a “Look”

Industrial design works in tandem with internal technology and end-user benefits, but the process is also sensitive to manufacturing and maintenance costs. From a pricing standpoint, channel considerations and budget considerations drive the industrial design process. Bottom line, satisfaction is key for all parties involved, in all aspects of the process.

And the price tag for maximizing profit margin without compromising brand equity? Industrial design usually runs between $50,000 for modifications of existing housing and $200,000 for customized packaging—a relatively small investment for a strong and effective marketing strategy that can create a proprietary look.

“Packaging should mirror the value of what’s inside,” Elsaden said, “and at the very least, it should increase perceived value. The truth is, everyone loves their own technology and product, but they have trouble getting their product to market. Industrial design can help overcome that obstacle.”

Sami’s Top 5 Industrial Design Tips & Tricks
  1. Well-designed packages or casings differentiate your product and build equity for your brand.
  2. Industrial design can cut manufacturing costs by eliminating parts or reducing assembly time. It also can be used to problem-solve high maintenance costs.
  3. Word of mouth can be the best route for finding an industrial design firm. Check out the products that you like and ask your sources.
  4. Define your service and discuss your objectives—and cost constraints—up front.
  5. Tight budget? Bypass customizations and explore existing “shell” modifications.