Digital Design: The Designer is the Listener
By Ira Kaufman
Issue 6 Winter 2010
The relationship between customers and design has changed. In this article about the changing landscape of design and its rela- tionship to customers Ira Kauffman discusses methods for design and designers to listen to their end-users’ desires in order to help build better brands, better design solutions and more sustainable practices through social media.
WEB2.0 technologies and social and digital media have dramatically impacted design. Digital Design has emerged, focusing on interactive communications, both viral and strategic, that provide optimum user experiences. Digital Design reflects the transformation of the design process that includes branding and logo design, social innovation, architecture, trade booths, new product development, sustainability, fashion, print and graphics as well as online environments.
In the past, designers received their direction from management in the form of a well documented brief. With the intelligence provided from the brief, designers would work on the concepts, deliver the design to the marketing team, receive feedback and approval, after which the creative studios turned those ideas into a finished product. Emily Chang, is an award-winning interactive designer and strategist who has written extensively on the subject. She stated
“There was a time not that long ago when design decisions were made in closed-door meetings, with a creative director pitching the concepts and execution to a team of stakeholders.” This time has come to an end, as new forms of social innovation have altered the design process.
Social Networking Revolution and The Designers Role in the Digital Age
Currently, there are over 500 million Facebook users, 145 million users on Twitter, 2 billion YouTube views per day, and 4.1 billion SMS mobile messages sent each day.
These technological advancements have forced the design process to turn 360 degrees, in order to become much more customer focused. The ‘design team’ is now listening to the customer as a prime source of information on branding, product design, sustainability, and customer service. Often the customer has multiple roles as thought leader, activist, publisher, employee, “designer” or actually “the media itself.”
With this expanded customer role and power in the marketplace, the design team has to rethink this new input into the design process and translate it into an integrated digital marketing campaign.
As the listener responds to inputs from users/customers/audience, the designer has less control. They must be transparent to adapt to the customer voice and input. Transparency is critical to produce a design that has integrated management values and direction with the social community. The interactivity is now among the customer and the design and the marketing teams, instead of between the executive and marketing teams. Emily Chang, commented: “In today’s world of new web services and applications, we expect that our feedback is read, considered, and acted upon, just as we expect a company to encourage conversation with us through a blog or forum. This level of transparency applies to design decisions as well: instant feedback on new feature rollouts or changes to the user interface, and even community voting on user-contributed logos.”
Digital Design is less about the designer’s reputation and selling their design, and more about how well the designer interprets the input; adapting their design sense to the customer and the management. The designer has to be transparent and yet uphold their values, design integrity, and personal style, while being adaptable to the design need.
Beyond The Hype
Digital Media is beyond the hype that accompanied the rise of social networking. It is an accepted medium of communication; agencies are now adding new media as a silo to their media mix, some integrate it with online, PR and traditional advertising, and few are optimizing and leveraging it to generate new marketing capital.
Traditional marketing was business-controlled, one-way, and focused on pushing the message to gain the customer’s attention. Information was coveted, and it directed the customer toward immediate action. Integrated Digital Marketing engages the customers through interactive user-generated conversations that build long-term relationships. Information is shared and transparent; businesses listen and are open to true customer involvement.
This paradigm shift is fueled by three factors:
1. Technology speed and ease of access to social networking tools
2. Democratized Creation – users are involved in: influencing brands and creating products; researching online, developing content, providing feedback and referring “friends”
3. Organizational Responsiveness Organizations have changed their mindset; listening to customer feedback, soliciting their input and involving them in the design process
Digital Design Interactive Communications
Digital Design reflects three types of interactive communications, viral, strategic, and corporate socially responsible (CSR), that serve as inputs to the design process.
Viral communications are unsolicited chatter about a company, their brands and social responsibility. It is user-generated content published on social media platforms (e.g., blogs, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr). Photos, messages, blog posts, videos, and reviews are reflections of customers’ experiences with a company’s products and services. This content is shared among community members, referred to friends and colleagues and syndicated via the web. It can take on a life of its own, becoming viral, affecting the company brand, its design and product development.
Recently, The Gap experienced the power of viral communications and social media in response to a re-design of its 20 year-old logo. The Gap engaged a design firm to create a new logo to rebrand the company. It was launched it on its website with minimal fanfare. But almost immediately there was a customer backlash that went viral via Twitter and other social sites.
Some of the twitter responses to The Gap’s new logo:
@superboxmonkey – “New Gap logo “looks as if it were done in Microsoft Word”
@spydergrrl – “Seen new Gap logo yet? I think it definitely captures essence of this generation, that is: “meh”
Twitter user @jamesjyu created a site where you can ‘make your own Gap logo’; the site went viral in a short time frame with users creating more than 5000 logos on their own.
The company’s initial response via their Facebook page was to suggest that they would ‘crowd-source’ a new logo. The next day the idea was reconsidered by management, and they reverted to the old design.
Coca Cola’s “Fans First” approach to social media generated very strong brand conversations and loyalty. On Facebook, over a six month period, they received more than 4,600 photos, 95 videos, 500,000 “likes”, and 90,000 “comments.”
Coca Cola “Fan First” Approach monitored their social mentions in each targeted region. They generated a similar conversation cloud to determine the regional customers’ keywords and design their regional Brand.
Strategic communications are company-initiated programs projected to gain feedback, interactivity and design alternatives for their brands, products and services and promote sustainability. Users participate in contests, community sites and social networking platforms and crowd-sourcing sites to generate participation and targeted results. This content is shared among targeted groups or the general public. It is a cost-effective design venue, while promoting customer involvement and brand loyalty.
Let’s look at four strategic programs that have directly changed the design process.
Digital Design contests are used to engage users, develop relationships and design products. Social media is used to connect a wide array of contest participants – either targeted groups or general public.
Threadless, a Chicago-based T-shirt company, uses an online contest as its product design process. Weekly, the company receives hundreds of T-shirt designs from amateur and professional artists that are posted to its website, where users rate each entry. Each week the four to six highest-rated that have strong pre-orders are put into production. Designers get $2,000 in cash and prizes, exposure for their work, and their name on the label. The value to Threadless are a savings in cost of design staff, increased traffic from the design community, reduced risk with pre-orders, and a source of constant innovation.
In contrast, one of the most revered art galleries globally, The Tate Gallery (United Kingdom), is sponsoring a contest to generate two outstanding product designs that will be produced and sold in Tate shops and online. The winning product design could:
* Capture the Tate experience and its influence on the arts
* Be inspired by the architecture of the buildings and galleries in the UK
Fortune 100 companies like Coca Cola are very active in using contests for design. Coke used an online contest to generate the design of a new label for Vitamin Water. They got more than 40,000 “label designers” globally to participate and tens of thousands voted on the final design. The company is also launching a contest to design a Coke dispensing machine for use in Second Life, meaning the possibilities are limited only by the user’s imagination.
One of the most innovative applications of Digital Design was an online contest used by Eric Whitacre to design a virtual choir. Whitacre used social media — his blog, a Facebook page and YouTube — to assemble and audition singers for his piece. He sent the sheet music out so people could submit videos featuring those singing individual parts. He then sifted through the videos and edited the audio parts together to form a very professional-sounding choir. ‘Lux Aurumque’ is the magnificent result of 185 voices from 12 countries.
2. Community Sites
Community sites possess the capacity to influence brands and design in a big way. Muji, a Japanese specialty furniture retailer, uses a community site to solicit novel product ideas from a member base of roughly half a million people. They ask members to pre-evaluate the designs; the highest-ranked ideas are given to professional designers to develop the production-grade specifications. Muji then taps the crowd for ideas and feedback to create a few innovative products; professional designers generate the remaining designs for the entire product line.
Starbucks developed a community site to encourage their customers to be new product designers. Customers can submit ideas for new products, community involvement and customer experience, which are then voted on by other users, the best of which will be implemented by the company. Here some examples:
A powerful community website and smart phone app, Good Guide, provides the environmental, health and social impact of 65,000 customer products. Shoppers are empowered to compare the eco-virtues of products while in the grocery store aisle. The newest add-on is for companies to share their best eco-practices with customers while shopping and engage in a real-time dialogue. Shoppers comments and actions will provide direct feedback to the design team.
OpenIDEO, a project of the innovation consultancy, is a community where people design together for the social good. After a challenge is posted the three development phases – inspiration, concepting, and evaluation – are put into motion. Community members’ contributions include photos, idea sketches, business models and programming code. A top concept is chosen; all concepts generated are shareable, remix-able, and reusable in a similar way to ‘creative commons.’ Last year the Food Revolution in America Challenge was designed to help fight to obesity United States. The goal was to change the way kids eat by teaching them how to cook and what fresh food can do for them.
3. Social networks
Digital media in the form of sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn affect design in four ways:
• By monitoring the chatter in the social media of a targeted social community or market segment, a company can
discover potential or existing customers’ feedback on a product, design, brand name or service.
• A company can use a social media tool or social networks (e.g., Twitter or Facebook) to solicit ideas, evaluate different design alternatives and
get feedback on product features or services.
• Social networks help to connect virtual teams of experts from disparate backgrounds to address the complexities of sustainable issues in the business
• Use social communities to vote on different designs.
Social networks, with their vast, targeted reach and interactivity, have been used to share designs and get feedback. Using a photo, PDF, or video, a company or design team can gain access to a community and give them an opportunity to participate in the design concept.
Some major brands have used social media to direct the design of their services and applications. Virgin Air asked Canadian
Twitter followers to name a new Airbus that was flying a new route from London to Toronto. Company favorites included: Plane Gretsky, Like a Virgin, Northern Exposure, Canuck Connect, and The Eh 320. Coca Cola used their Facebook community to name and design a new product. The result was “Connect,” a black cherry-lime drink with caffeine and 8 key ingredients. These exemplify a new relationship between brands and customers; one where the customers’ desires for what they want the brand to be are met.
Crowd-sourcing sites and social media networks provide access to a “virtual crowd” that has a shared interest. A crowd-sourcing website outsources jobs that were once done by employees through an open call to an undefined group of people. The concept behind crowd-sourcing is that experts, low-paid amateurs, and freelancers around the world can contribute to the design process. The company creates a design brief, and posts it to a “community.” The final selection for the best “design” can be completed in a number of ways. The designs can be given to the company who initiates the campaign with a bounty paid for the best design or the winner can be voted for online. Crowd-sourcing has been used by companies and organizations to design products, logos, websites, and to create content and new business and social ideas. It has also been used to design conferences and even tackle corporate R&D problems.
Crowd-sourcing is a subset of what Eric von Hippel calls “user-centered innovation,”
in which manufacturers rely on customers not just to define their needs, but to define the products or enhancements to meet them. Open innovation and crowd-sourcing has become an online institution with sites focusing on research and development, marketing, collective intelligence, human relations, and software. A 2009 survey of Marketing Executives Networking Group saw crowd-sourcing as effective or highly effective for new product and service development. It shot up from 62% a year ago to 75%, overtaking R&D that fell slightly from 73% to 72%.
The New Design Process
Entwine Digital’s marketing team used a crowd-sourcing site to design an innovative logo and brand concept. For an investment of $560, it received more than 600 designs from 70 plus designers from around the world. Entwine’s designers interacted with the finalist, a young Indonesian, to refine the logo for different applications.
In another context, IBM has refined crowd-sourcing and designed “jams,” or crowd-sourcing events with selected individuals, to harness creativity and innovation on specific topics. During IBM’s 2006 Innovation JamTM, more than 150,000 people from 104 countries and 67 companies collaborated to generate and launch 10 new IBM businesses with seed investment totaling $100 million.
Jams can also be applied to social issues. In 2005, during three days, the Government of Canada, UN-HABITAT and IBM hosted Habitat Jam. Tens of thousands of participants – from urban specialists, to government leaders, to residents from cities around the world – discussed issues of urban sustainability that ultimately helped shape the agenda for the UN World Urban Forum, held in June 2006.
P&G’s “Open Innovation Challenge” is designed to stimulate innovation by helping the company harness ideas from outside its own research labs. After the presentation, participants were invited to submit product propositions that have the potential to build businesses. Challenges on fabric care and wellness were submitted with the aim of funding innovations that could produce new global markets worth $100 million. From this group, 72 ideas were submitted by 25 different companies. Some ten promising propositions were selected and given feedback, advice, and up to £25,000 to develop their ideas to the point of commercial viability.
Corporate Socially Responsible Communications
CSR Communications are company and non-profit online venues designed to impact the environment and sustainability. These communications can be directed toward a company, its stakeholders, or the community at large and directly impact the Digital Design.
Mission Zero was initiated by the Chairman of Interface, Inc, the world’s largest commercial carpet manufacturer. It uses CSR communications to enlist millions to take “little actions” to contribute to a more sustainable environment. The site fosters sharing and exchanging new ideas and houses corporate best practices and an information warehouse on sustainability.
Green Peace employs digital activism to effect social and business change. Designers listen up! Its campaign against Apple encouraged the computer giant to reduce toxic chemicals and create greener products. Their social bookmarking, YouTube and blogs were directed at stakeholders to visit www.greenmyapple.org; the result Steve jobs announced a change in corporate policy—“Green My Apple to the Core.”
Just Means engages companies, like Timberland, to use their social community site for people to discuss a company’s social and environmental impact.
Digital media has changed the competitive landscape for the design world. Digital Design has opened and leveled the playing field globally, stimulating a new level of creativity and innovation, as well as sustainability.
Designers have the opportunity to use digital media to develop and build their personal brand. They can expand their network and relationships and use collaborative tools to participate in innovative, sustainable design solutions. They can showcase their talent on designer sites like Behance or Dribbble. They can also weave creative design with new media platforms to distinguish their work. The Digital Designer has to listen to and integrate the inputs of the social community and management to address the needs of the changing customer.
STRATEGIES IN ACTION:
Recognize the desires of customers when engaging in the design process
Listen to customer demands via social media
Open up to the possibility of customers dictating the future of the company
Collaborate with other agencies, firms and companies to create new innovations
Challenge users to imagine new possibilities for the company
Impact the practices of your industry through grassroots and community support
About the Author:
Ira Kaufman PhD
President, Digital Marketing Strategist, Entwine Digital
Ira challenges senior executives in business and organizations to clarify their goals and translate them into a consistent Brand and Integrated Media Marketing Strategy. He combines 30 years of rich experiences with businesses and nonprofits to leverage the power of social technologies for marketing, recruitment and organizational development.
Ira collaborates with a team of experts to design interactive environments that create long-term value and ROI. He has a passion for digital/social media and how it can make a positive impact on businesses and the global environment. His strong values and sensitivity to organization innovation and change are the foundation of his work. Ira serves as a consultant, trainer, public speaker, and lecturer for companies and Senior Executive programs.
College of Design Architecture, Art, and Planning:http://www.daap.uc.edu/design/digital/
Mission Zero: Missionzero.org
1. Chang, Emily (2006). Design 2.0: Minimalism, Transparency, and You. EmilyChang.com. Retrieved from http://emilychang.com/2006/02/design-20-minimalism-transparency-and-you/
2. Flores, Laurent. (2009)Crowdsourcing getting traction for NPD. Customer Listening.;