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Retail Outlet: 4 Ways Innovative Industrial Design Gives You an Advantage

1 Sep, 2008 By: Response Contributor Response

Industrial design is, simply put, design for industry. Industrial designers work with marketers and engineers to create visually appealing, functional products for manufacturers and entrepreneurs.

 Scott Doty
Scott Doty

Innovation: "a new idea, method or device." — Merriam-Webster Online

In the past decade, fashion-forward retailers, such as Target, have embraced design as a strategic tool. Almost every other major big box has followed suit, including K-Mart, Sears, Staples and Wal-Mart. Private label products are no longer "me-too" commodities sold on value pricing, but rather "premium" products, traffic drivers and sometimes even best sellers.

Following are some of the ways in which industrial design affords those who use it effectively a competitive advantage.

1. Innovative industrial design creates value and raises the price that consumers are willing to pay. In the past decade, consumers have shown that they are willing to pay more for an object that not only works well, but also is beautiful. This is in contrast to the prevailing wisdom of the 1980s and 1990s that consumers were only driven by features and price. Virginia Postrel explains this well in her book, "The Substance of Style." She writes, "Target introduces a line of housewares developed by architect-designer Michael Graves. Few Target customers have heard of Graves, but his playful toaster quickly becomes the chain's most popular, and most expensive, model. A year later, Target doubles the number of Graves offerings, to more than 500 products. Over time, it adds even more." Clearly, consumers will pay more for products that stand out.

2. Innovative industrial design creates desire. When we think of innovative products, we think of products that arouse the emotions. The Porsche Boxster, Apple's iPhone and Motorola's Razr cell phone were all designed by people that understand how to appeal to the consumer's emotions. In fact, recent research suggests that emotions are the driving force behind most purchasing decisions. If a product does not first connect emotionally with many consumers, they are not as likely to consider other benefits, such as its functional merits or how it fits into their budget. Desire leads directly to higher sales. If you've done everything else right, desire can sometimes lead to market domination. By summer 2005, Apple's iPod had snagged an estimated 80-percent market share. Clearly, innovative design can increase your bottom line.

3. Innovative industrial design creates a buzz! Think of a product that you lust after. Can you remember the first time you saw that product in the flesh? Perhaps it's the Motorola Razr, a slim and sexy cell that topped the sales charts in the U.S. and Europe a few years ago. You are having dinner with your brother as he casually slips out his new Razr to check his voicemail. "When did you get that?" you ask. "Can I see that?" As he hands it over, you say "wow" a little too loudly. You get some stares from other tables. In your excitement over how slim and sexy this electronic beauty is, you've created a stir. You've inadvertently created "buzz" for this fine creation of the folks at Motorola. If you keep this up, they may be able to fire that expensive New York ad agency. This is the power of having not just good design, but design that is so unique that it grabs you on an emotional level.

4. Innovative industrial design attracts high quality customers. An investment in design attracts customers with more disposable income. The average income of a Target customer is $50,000 per year versus $35,000 per year for a Wal-Mart customer. A major part of Target's growth strategy is to differentiate itself through design. In the past decade or so, Target has gone from one industrial designer to 50-plus industrial designers in house. They have also hired a host of well-known designers, such as Michael Graves, Phillipe Starck, Todd Oldham and Isaac Mizrahi, each of whom has a fleet of designers working for them. From 2000 to 2005, the retailer's revenues grew from 14-27 percent per year. Obviously, Target feels that its investment in design is helping it reach out to the affluent customers who are fueling its growth.

Scott Doty is an industrial designer based in Philadelphia. He can be reached via E-mail at, or visit to subscribe to his design newsletter.

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