Friday, 5 November 2010

Falling in love again - What are we to do?

“People don’t buy products anymore because they need them, they buy them because they love them.”  
These words could have been spoken by any of our great West Midlands businesses – Jaguar Landrover, Aga Rangemaster, Aston Martin, Morgan Motor Company, Pashley Cycles or Brintons Carpets...companies wrestling daily to re-invent their much-loved classic brands.  

It may strike you as a statement of the blindingly obvious but, according to Professor Roberto Verganti of Milan Polytechnic and Copenhagen Business School, it hasn’t been fully grasped by many businesses and Business Schools around the world who are focussing on user-centred design and ideas-generated innovation rather than 'radical innovation to generate increased sales and profits as well as customer loyalty..
“You need to make people fall in love with a product and to do this there is a different set of rules,” he said speaking at a Visiting Lecture series organised by the Birmingham Institute of Design in association with Aston University, School of Engineering and Applied Science.
It comes down to creating things that are more meaningful and make more sense to people.  As Prof Verganti says “the word ‘design’ is from the Latin, ‘Designare’ to designate or assign meaning. 

“It’s the product’s meaning that makes people love your product. Everything we do, see, we always give meaning to things in our lives.”  Will Hutton of The Work Foundation has put it slightly differently saying ‘People hunger for the experiential’.

Changing the meaning of a product, or radical design innovation, “goes far beyond the accepted approaches to innovation based on user observation and generating bundles of ideas,” processes which Prof Verganti says can be too speedy and superficial.  If there is one thing that Italian businesses in Lombardy have been good at it’s been ‘managing radical design innovation’. 
This approach is summed up by Ernesto Gismondi of Lombardy lighting business, “Market what market? We do not look at the market. We make proposals to people.”
Or as Alberto Alessi has put it, “Each object represents a tendency, a proposal and an indication of progress which has a more cultural resonance.”  The fundamental issue for all businesses is ‘how can we make people feel better?’

But how to do this? Being radical can be risky, expensive, generating the moments best tucked away and forgotten or those remembered for the wrong reasons? 

Prof Verganti says “You do this by leveraging through ‘interpreters’ – people with capacity to combine the ‘big picture’ with profound insights at company level.  To do this takes a lot of research.” 
He reminds us of the complex forces shaping our businesses – and how we need to be alive to all of these to get the ‘big picture’...cultural organisations, sociologists, anthropologists, marketers, media, educators, artists, technologies, supply chains, designers, retail, logistics, legal frameworks and of course people themselves. 
Prof Verganti says companies need a big network of ‘interpreters’ to do radical change and to see user-experience from a different perspective adding, “You don’t get something new by hiring the most famous designers around.  The trick is to find new interpreters.”
Most radical people succeed when they are in ‘circles’ or networks of like-minded people.   Ernesto Gismondi of Artemide recognised this and funded architect and designer, Ettore Sotsass who formed the Memphis Milan Design Collective of the 80’s resulting in a wave of ‘rule-breaking’ designs paving the way to a different way of managing design innovation in Lombardy that drove sales and profits over the next 20 years.  
Professor Verganti’s research has shown that any region can start an effective design cluster.  His research also notes some of the characteristics of effective innovators versus imitators.
For him, it’s clear that all businesses need designers – so in that respect there is no difference between the innovators and imitators.  “It’s a bit like a dentist – of course you need a dentist, the question is do you have the right one for you?  Alberto Alessi works with over 90 designers from all over the world.  He is always trying to find the next great talent to suit his business.”
The real differences between innovators and imitators in Lombardy lies in the higher % of architects as designers employed by the innovators, coupled with a higher percentage of non-Italian designers. 
“Most innovative companies have a lot of networks.  Networks for innovation need to be larger.  These businesses have collaborative strategies in design and knowledge diversity based on long range planning.  These businesses work with interpreters to develop meaningful scenarios for their customers by moving outside the accepted thinking and perspectives.”
“The danger for strong brands is that they become conservative making too many incremental changes rather than working to create their future. 90% of products are the result of market pull but to create your future you need to interpret the future through a strong vision which makes people feel better.”

Birmingham Post blog visit

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