Find “pet peeves,” fix them, and customers will flock to you
Design Is How it Works: How the Smartest Companies Turn Products Into Icons. By Jay Greene, 240 pp., Penguin U.S.A.
Reviewed by James Donnelly, senior regional vice-president, Machias Savings Bank, $952.6 million-assets, Machias, Me. If you’d like to review books for our online book column, please e-mail
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Authenticity…the feel in your hand…the sound of power…the art of design.
What do these seemingly random words or phrases have in common?
They are key elements to the interesting read of Design Is How it Works: How the Smartest Companies Turn Products Into Icons.
Jay Greene, former Seattle bureau chief for BusinessWeek, walks the reader through his personal exploration of how innovative companies create their own opportunities and solve design problems. The companies he explores include Porsche, Nike, LEGO, OXO, REI, Clif Bar, Ace Hotels, and Virgin Atlantic.
When brand, feel, purpose, and customer satisfaction meet
None of these are banks or financial firms. But bankers will find lessons here.
The reader will walk through how Porsche works to make sure that they don’t lose what makes a Porsche a Porsche while they inject new technology or new products. The company pays attention to every detail that identifies their product. The sound of the engine is tuned, the trademark headlights are preserved, and the key is not in the way of the shifter. This attention to detail has allowed Porsche to occupy their place in the marketplace without serious challenge.
When the founder of OXO reinvented the most simple kitchen utensil—the peeler—he watched his semi-arthritic wife struggle to use the everyday kitchen utensil. His love for his wife, and his desire to solve pet peeves, built a first-class design company.
Virgin Atlantic’s bigger-than-life CEO Sir Richard Branson was frustrated by his experiences with air travel. He set out to change the experience. Virgin Atlantic focused on fixing common complaints and making changes in design—from the gut. As the CEO of an entertainment company, Sir Richard “got” the fact that you can do more than the minimum, and deliver an experience.
LEGO unleashed the passion of its customers to reinvent the company and its income statement. Management also invested funds in entrepreneurs who found new markets for them. LEGO has shown the way to the promised land of customer engagement.
Nike has dominated the sports shoe market by affiliating their lines with premier athletes. Again, the word “authenticity” comes to mind. When entering the skate boarder market Nike tried to do it in a way that strayed from their tried-and-true methods. Nike didn’t give up when they first failed; the company “went authentic” and made a real commitment to understanding its customers. Which meant going back to what has made Nike successful through its great history.
REI and Clif Bars were started by practitioners of sports who found the products available to them as participants inferior. Then they reinvented how they delivered their experience to the “authentic” athletes. They don’t stray to the broader market, but stay true to who they are.
Specific lesson for bankers
Many of the companies explored in this interesting book were led by enthusiasts in their own right who made a product to fill a personal need. They then found people like themselves for customers. Greene illustrates how authenticity is the key to keeping the true enthusiasts as loyal customers and even converts them into a creative force for growth—a sort of sales team.
I took away two key lessons from this book:
1. Pay attention to what customers are frustrated by in the way we do business.
Yes, banks have regulatory requirements, many of them. But every product category covered in the book also has a safety or regulatory burden to carry. Think of all the regulations that apply to airlines, for instance. Or to car manufacturing.
Porsche has seat belts, Virgin has to maintain planes and use trained pilots, and Clif Bars must disclose its ingredients on the package. But they found their marks with customers.
Each of these firms, while under those regulations, explored creative and innovative way to serve their customers.
2. Consumers want us to figure out what the pet peeves and imperfections are in products. Then they want us to fix them—not explain them.
The genius of these companies is they often solved problems that were not identified as such. Design engineers look for the pet peeves in everyday items and work to make them better.
A few closing thoughts
I enjoyed this exploration, and the book unlocked some creative juices, as I began looking at how I as a banker could and should look at how I deliver my products to my customers. I’d recommend it to fellow bankers.
However, I’d add a caveat or two. First, the book was a little disjointed and did not flow from the start to the finish. Second, Greene at times seemed to get lost in companies that he enjoyed personally that did not truly fit the original premise of the book.
I was a little confused by the REI chapter and how it fit into the rest of the book, for instance. He did try to pull things back to the premise at the end of that chapter. But as a reader, it stretched the premise for me.
The final chapter does try to tie all of the different areas explored back to a few concepts which rely heavily on the design engineers who take great concepts and make them work. Consumers recognize and respond to authenticity.
Overall, while this book has some weaknesses, it is thought-provoking, and, in a time when bankers’ time is short, worth the relatively small commitment of time to read it.
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[This article was posted on November 5, 2010, on the website of ABA Banking Journal, www.ababj.com, and is copyright 2010 by the American Bankers Association.]