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Design, communication and what's on our mind

Tom Peters in search of Excellent Design

The Corporate Design Foundation, a non-profit education and research organization, promotes design and business success stories through the publication @issue: The Journal of Business and Design.  The Foundation talked with Tom Peters, considered the preeminent authority on business management (“In Search of Excellence” ), about the role design can play in business.
You are best known as a guru of corporate management, so maybe we should start by asking what design encompasses for you?
Literally, everything. I once contributed a little piece called “Design Is ” for a book, in which I wrote down 100 things, listing everything from easy-to-fill-out airbills to baseballs, which I consider fabulous turn-ons. Design ranges from the physical layout of a room to the makeup artists who present Larry King to the public. It’s Winston Churchill’s “spontaneous” witty remarks, all of which he had carefully written out the night before on small scraps of paper and carried around with him. Another huge part of design is usability, which Don Norman discusses so well in his book, The Design of Everyday Things.
Is design purely practical?
Not really. I saw an article in Fortune recently where Steve Jobs is quoted saying “design is the soul of a manmade creation.” There’s a part of that I’m attracted to. I also loved Rose Tremain’s passage on music in her novel “Music and Silence,” which I think is just as true about design. [Reading from book] She writes, ” of course, we really do not know where music comes from, or why, or when the first note of it was heard, and we shall never know. It is the human soul speaking without words, but it seems to cure pain.” For me, design is elusive, it’s soul, it’s abstract, and it’s all of the opposites of those things.
Is design more important for marketing products than services?
No. Paradoxically, I believe that design is more important for services. Harvard marketing expert Ted Levitt pointed out years ago that if your product is tangible (planes, boats, cars, pen knife), you need to distinguish yourself from the herd by emphasizing intangibles i.e., service. If your product is intangible (banking, travel, etc.), distinguish yourself from the masses by emphasizing the tangible to wit, design. FedEx, for example, stands out on the tangibles of strong branding, clean trucks, easy-to-use forms. A business system, like FedEx’s, that works transparently on the surface and offers brilliant simplicity is as much about design as an iMac or a Beetle. If you’re a service business, it’s important to work on the tangibles.
Does the design industry recognize this fact?
Well, I found it interesting that when ID Magazine published its Top 40 list of organizations that make effective use of design, half of them were service companies. There were as many FedExs, Bloombergs and New York Yankees on the list as there were Gillettes, Caterpillars and Apples.
What mistakes have you seen managers make in terms of understanding and using design?
Mistake No.1 is treating design as a veneer issue rather than a soul issue. The dumbest mistake is viewing design as something you do at the end of the process to “tidy up” the mess, as opposed to understanding that it’s a “day one” issue and part of everything.
How important is design in e-commerce?
It is e-commerce. Period. All stop. Whether it is the look of the screen, the innards, the delivery mechanism that actually makes the stuff come to fruition after you punch your one-click button, or the look-feel-taste-touch of the site itself, the Internet is a pure, unadulterated design medium.

Filed under: Design

Case Study: Print adds to the online experience

Impressive advances in e-commerce websites— and consumer web proficiency— have changed the business of online shopping. But while retailers started to downplay the importance of catalogs a few years ago, there is still plenty to be gained from those print products.

According to Coy Clement, who runs catalog and multichannel direct marketing consultancy, online shoppers who read retail catalogs are often better at using e-tail websites than those that get there through search engines. A look at one of his client’s website’s — J.Crew — shows how retailers can take those lessons to heart.

Clement finds that catalogs are an excellent way to direct consumers, both online and off: “I’ve seen cases where people who’ve received the catalog buy the featured items. They know what they’re looking for, and they use the catalog as a guide to what the company is selling. People who show up through organic search have much more difficulty navigating the Website because they really don’t know what the key items are.”

But while catalogs are still a great way to reach consumers, the ways that people interact with them are changing. Says Clement: “If you’re selling electronics for instance, anybody who’s a sophisticated electronics shopper knows that by the time you get the catalog, it’s old news. So if you send out catalogs, there’s got to be a purpose other than announcing new products in the electronics field. For a given audience or product category, print meets the customers’ needs differently.”

Filed under: Technology

Five Ways the iPad Will Change Magazine Design

Many people are wondering what effect Apple’s new iPad tablet will have on print publications. Recently Pentagram’s Luke Hayman weighed in on five ways he says the device will change things:

1) A reversal of a decades-long trend
“For as long as I’m been alive, publication formats have been getting smaller. First, oversized magazines like Life and Esquire either disappeared or switched to conventional formats to save money on paper and mailing. Then editorial content started moving online, shrinking to fit computer screens and then even smaller for PDAs and 140-character tweets. The iPad represents the first time this trend has been reversed. Instead of smaller, more low-res content, we have the chance to get bigger, brighter, sharper content. Designers used to making it smaller may have trouble learning to go the other way.”
2) Instantaneous updates
Say goodbye to the idea of monthly news magazines, or weeklies, or dailies. Print publications, already under siege by the Internet and 24-hour news cycle, will have to learn to adapt to a world of instantaneous updates. This is most obvious for news and business publications, but it’s just as true for fashion, entertainment and specialized titles.
3) A reset on advertising
The mean little conventions of online advertising—banner ads, pop ups, and so forth—aren’t popular with readers, with advertisers, and certainly not with designers. The iPad’s a new medium that will create a whole range of opportunities. Once people start exploiting what it can do, we may see a creative renaissance. People will start subscribing to certain i-mags just for the ads alone.
4) A new way of telling stories
Editors have been telling us for years that people won’t read long stories online. Yet they will read 1,000-page novels on their Kindles. What will they be willing to read on their iPad? I predict the return of long-form journalism. At the same time, visual storytelling will take deeper, richer forms. Information design will be more important than ever.
5) A new role for print
“If digital magazines with rich, uncompromised, real-time content corner the market on delivering what you need to know right now, what’s the point of print? I think that the publications that end up enduring will be the ones that exploit what print alone can do. The best ones will be things that you want to save, not toss in the recycling bin. They’ll project a sense of craftsmanship and permanence. And each one should be an object that just feels terrific in your hand. If you’re spending most of your free-time holding an iPad, you just might welcome a change of pace.”

Filed under: Technology

Media Relations in sub-Saharan Africa

Public relations is one of those arenas I’ve had my hands in for 25-plus years. Starting with Burson-Marsteller in London (at the time the world’s largest PR firm) and on through managing smaller regional operations, it’s a field that has changed as much as any in the communications industry. For more than a decade we’ve had the pleasure of working with Andy Burness and his team at Burness Communications. With clients like the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the American Cancer Society, and the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, they have become national (and dare I say international) leaders in advancing social change for non-profits though public relations and advocacy communications.

I was on the Burness website earlier today checking-up on a client we share and came across some interesting information and images on the work the firm is doing in Africa. Through their office in Nairobi, Kenya, they’ve placed over 1,000 stories in African media in the last five years alone – all supporting health, ag and environmental advancements on the continent. Here’s the link. You’ll also see a link to Burness Africa images on Flickr:

http://burnesscommunications.com/node/32

Filed under: Communication

Photography

We’re in the midst of design and production of the 2009 Annual Report and Proxy Statement for Cyclacel Pharmaceuticals – our fourth report for the New Jersey-based company. Today we completed a photo shoot in Toronto featuring a cancer patient. Despite some limitations of the location, the shoot was a great success. Our thanks to Evan Dion who we can thoroughly recommend if you ever need a photographer in Ontario.

Last year we did a similar shoot in Texas and used local photographer Darren Carroll who also turned out to be an excellent choice.

Filed under: Design

Alumni Magazine Readers – A National Survey

CASE (Council for Advancement and Support of Education) revealed some of the core findings of an interesting new survey during the annual CASE District II conference in Philadelphia today. As an aside, the Conference was well attended (despite the snow) and well organized. It was good to see various clients winning 2010 Accolades Awards – congratulations to one and all.

Back to the survey – the CASE Members Magazine Readership Survey, launched in 2009, gives the first comprehensive national data on magazine readers’ habits, likes and dislikes. More than 120 institutions participated in the Web-based research with a total of more than 30,000 readers responding. All results been added to a national database.

In Philadelphia, Tracy Casteuble, Director of Research, CASE, presented the top-line results of the survey and various conclusions about what works – and what doesn’t – with alumni magazine readers. From what I’ve seen of the results so far, I suspect many of the conclusions will affirm our own beliefs built-up from seeing the results of surveys our clients have conducted. However, being able to peg our own smaller surveys against a large national database is significant. We’re looking forward to seeing the complete survey results – available to coincide with the March issue of Currents.

Filed under: Higher Education

Content Management Systems in Higher Ed

Our friends at Systems Alliance provide technology consulting services to clients including University of Maryland University College, Johns Hopkins Institutions and Conde Nast. While Systems Alliance is perhaps best know for their content management system, SiteExecutive, they continue to be a valuable resource for understanding certain vertical markets. For us, higher education is a prime focus and if that’s an area of interest for you, I’d recommend a survey they conducted of college executives  – respondents identify accepted student websites and better web content for parents as useful tools for enhancing recruitment and enrollment:

http://www.siteexecutive.com/sem/survey_rpt.html

Filed under: Higher Education