When we think about design in our industry, it almost always generates images of a showroom designer helping someone pick cabinets in a showroom. You can picture it now: several cabinet sections of varied designs butted up to one another, countertop samples laying around, moldings leaning up against things, sample doors piled up, and a part of the showroom torn down in “transition”. In the background, the distant hum of machines, the faint smell of finish and edge banding glue linger. A shop employee enters as the machine sounds get louder for a moment. This is the setting for “design” in our industry, and from the customer perspective, most showrooms feel the same.
Is this the extent and impact design has on our industry? Is that really how we sum up design? It can’t be. Whether you know it or not, every part of your business starts with a design question. Everything around us was designed before it took material form. Your shop equipment, layout, sales process, and everything you see around you was “designed”.
We know great design when we see it, yet it’s difficult to articulate it. Great design is simply intelligence and fore-thought that enables order and beauty out of chaos. The difference between a disorganized and cluttered shop; with one that is orderly, efficient, and clean is design. The difference between a logo that is hard to read, cluttered, and complicated contrasted with one that is simple and effective is design. The difference between “popping off” at someone in anger and contemplating a correct response is design. It’s everywhere and nowhere, and we need more of it.
Almost everybody in the world is familiar with Apple’s products. Love them or not, the company that started in the garage has emerged to be the world’s most valuable company. Why is that? When we examine the history, we find a designer-founder who was hell-bent on great design from the beginning. There are stories of Steve Jobs obsessing about the insides of his early computers, which most people would never see. The obsession with unseen parts of course emphasized the importance of design to the visible ones. Fast forward to Apple stores where the tones of the wood, the reflectivity of the walls, the music, and every detail of the store are strategically designed to put you in a certain mood. I don’t even have to finish the paragraph with what happened. At the time of this article, Apple is worth more than 2 TRILLION dollars. It starts in design.
In our industry, we tend to focus on the production, function, and quality (sturdiness) of our products. No doubt, our customers require that of us, but what if we designed the experience of buying our products using the same intensity Steve Jobs used in the design of the iPhone? What would that even look like? What thing can we unlock in our industry by looking at our companies the way designers look at things?
Consumers are being pampered at every level of consumerism, and they’re beginning to expect it everywhere they look. It’s difficult to compete with the quick and easy experience of Amazon, or the luxurious treatment at a spa, but we must, we have no choice. The experience of dealing with your company will be noted and judged against the experiences they have everywhere else. If the experience doesn’t stack up, then you will not be talked about, you won’t get attention, and you will be passed up.
You may be missing opportunities simply because you haven’t spent enough time in design. Sit down and design the entire customer process from start to finish. Design what they see, smell, hear, feel, and even taste all the way through your process. Design your products to please the senses. Design your shop floor for employee productivity and comfort. Hire a graphic designer for your logo and website. Design how you interact with your customers at every level. Think about times you’ve enjoyed a buying process and apply it to your business. Take ideas from other “unrelated” businesses and make them yours, you're not bound! Think outside your current reality.
Great design isn’t for every business, but it's the secret sauce for the ones that win!