Design beats function in era of samegadget features

Mate 10 was launched in Kenya in October last year. PHOTO | AFP
Mate 10 was launched in Kenya in October last year. PHOTO | AFP  

Last week global technology firm Huawei announced that six of its devices had won different awards in design at the 2018 iF International Industrial Design Forum held in Hanover, Germany.

The awards come at a time design rather than function is emerging as an important element in driving consumer sales, research has found.

“Huawei’s award-winning devices were selected by the iF Awards Committee, which consists of 63 independent experts from around the world. These awards recognize Huawei’s commitment to quality, design and performance and build on the company’s track record of delivering stylish, powerful, award-winning devices,” said Huawei.

The iF Design Awards have for over sixty years awarded companies globally in different industries that excel in their product design and quality in the following disciplines: product, packaging, communication and service design, architecture and interior architecture as well as professional concepts. This year, it received over 6,400 entries from 54 countries.

The Huawei devices that won included; The Huawei Mate 10, Huawei Mate 10 Pro, Huawei nova 2, Huawei MateBook X, Huawei 4G Router and Huawei VR 2.

The Huawei Mate 10, which was launched in the Kenyan market in November last year retailing at approximately Sh70,000, was recogniSed for its quality, stylish design and build. It features a glass back that gives a smooth feel on the users and a metal frame that gives it a shiny appeal.

“When designing our products we think about how the consumers will interact with them. Through research, we find out how to make them user-friendly, convenient and appealing to the eye,” said Adam Lane, Huawei’s, Senior Public Affairs Director for Kenya.

Design is now considered the differentiating factor in influencing purchase as consumers are presented with an influx of same product with the same function.

So important is it to companies in the technology industry that since 2004, 71 design firms have been acquired by firms with around 50 per cent taking place in 2015 and 2016, according to the 2017 Design in Technology report conducted by John Maeda, an American executive, designer and technologist.

“Design is not just about aesthetic appeal, it is about giving a brand its market relevance and driving market demand. Recently, global companies McKinsey & Co and IBM have made appointments at their most senior levels for designers. By adopting an inclusive design approach, it expands their technology product’s total addressable market,” reported Maeda

“Business, as usual, is no longer good enough. Mature industries that have focused on more, better and faster now need to adjust their thinking to include design as a key value differentiator. Reports by LinkedIn show that the top companies in the technology industry are seeking to hire more design talent with Facebook, Google, and Amazon increasing their design talent in the past year by 65 per cent collectively — with much headroom to hire more.”

Therefore, a failure for a company to differentiate its product with a design that appeals to a mass market could result in its demise when competitors emerge or when they rebrand.

An example of a company that collapsed due to its failure to incorporate new design in its products and instead stuck to its technological offering is Canadian multinational company Blackberry Limited.

Its devices were designed for the corporate market with QWERTY physical keyboards that enabled consumers to send emails easily and quickly.

They also lacked apps and when they eventually introduced them, they were not the popular ones and were fewer than those of its competitors.

“Blackberry lacked some of the important innovations that that were introduced with launch of the iPhone. The first was design. The2007 iPhone was successfully designed to be extremely user-friendly and intuitive. Secondly, in 2008 Google introduced its Play store. A virtual store in which users could purchase applications that they desired on their mobile device,” reports a case study from the University of Amsterdam on the downfall of Blackberry.

“These companies introduced radical new innovations which they continued to exploit. Blackberry did not. The competitors were one cycle ahead, and left Blackberry one step behind.”

At its peak in 2009, Blackberry had a global market share of 20 per cent in the smartphone market and a net income of $1.89 billion but in 2016, its market share had declined to 0.01 per cent and reported a net loss of $208 million, according to research firm Statista.

- African Laughter