Designing the Desire To Be Number #1
By Kevin Rorick
Issue 6 Winter 2010
Using Google, a quick search of “Top 100 …” yields roughly 4,630,000,000 results, (all of which were delivered in .39 seconds from the world’s number one Internet search engine). Topics range from the Top 100 in sports, business schools, brands, music, etc. Certainly justifiable, all are competitive industries fueled by the desire to be number one or at minimum recognized in the top five or ten. This positions, validates the creators, shareholders, the investors, the practitioners and the consumers. It invites those who wish to participate to say, “We are number one.”
In designing this desire to be number one, focus can become skewed, research used ineffectively, short cuts taken, resulting in, shall we say, less than desirable results. In the case of Toyota, this October saw the company recall 1.53 million of their vehicles worldwide. This comes on the heels of an earlier recall this past year of 1.3 million cars. Although automobile manufactures set aside money for “Quality-related Expenses” (Toyota has set aside $1.12 billion this year), for issues related to recalls, it does not negate the cost of potential legal costs, and the company’s brand equity. The result of the 2010 Toyota recall on sales is estimated at $770-880 million this year, with Toyota paying out an extra $2 billion in extra costs.
What if the case was not to design desire to be number one, but rather, to design what is desired by the consumer, and by focusing on consumer desires, the ancillary benefit was the number one market position?
It is clear that in the case of Toyota’s operations in the United States and their mission statement: “to attract and attain customers with high-valued products and services and the most satisfying ownership experience in America,” that they missed this opportunity by straying from the needs of the consumer and focusing on their position in the market first.
Designing desire to be number one does not need to come at such high costs to a company, or, in the case of some of the cars in Toyota’s recall, an individual. As designers and design strategists we can affect and influence decisions within companies with successful results. Our experience in material procurement, design research, and building strategic outcomes can be used to great benefit in companies that desire to be number one, not just in their respective industry, but as companies that design desirable, responsible products and ethics.
As designers we have the opportunity to meet the internal needs of the organization and external needs of the individual. Internally, our decisions and recommendations can impact short and long-term costs.
By providing an organization reasons backed by financial and human-centered logic for our decisions, the role of the designer has now transformed. By educating ourselves and educating our colleagues through succinct research and design choices, the role of design and the designer as a cost-center shifts towards a profit center for the organization.
Outside of the organization, understanding what the individual desires will inform how and what we design to meet these needs. Understanding that a key desire for automobile purchasers is safety, the designer must account for this desire in all steps of the process. Failure of this scope cannot be accepted for an individual or company.
It is one thing to be number one in your market, however, as is the case with Toyota, they went from being the number one automobile manufacturer in 2009 to being number one in automobile recalls in 2010. Had the focus been on designing what they anticipated their consumers desired as opposed to what they desired the financial and image degradation could have been avoided.