by: Design Translator

I finally got the time today to sit down and really think about the impact of these troubled times.

It has been a very hectic month since I officially started my new role, as a result I really only hovered around the “doom and gloom” of the global impact from the US Sub-Prime Crises. With only snippets of news via early morning radio and the occasional Stock Market update on my iPhone, I never really had a chance to think about this crisis till today.

I’m sure all of you will agree with me that we will have tough times to come. Troubled people don’t spend money, rather they hoard it. This means our consumer product and development industry will be affected. Logically, many companies tighten their belts and cut budgets of “non essential” activities. Many times such non-vital activities tend to be Design, marketing, advertising and R&D.

Without sounding biased, I strongly encourage companies to be a little more far sighted and do their best not to cut design budget. History has shown that companies, who position themselves well through great design strategies, often make it out of the recession in much better shape than the competition.

Here are some Design Strategies companies you can employ to beat that recession blues:

1) Get to know your target consumer better.
This is one of the key things that you should be always doing during the good times and now more so during the bad ones. When you know your consumer better, you can see if the products you are selling or designing are really meaningful to them. Optimization of the experience is vital in creating great products that can beat the competition. In these times, when people have to make tough purchasing decisions, you can bet they will be very picky.

2) Make fewer products.
What? That’s right. Further what we have discussed for point 1, you can now start to optimize the types of products you are making and toss out the ones that don’t make sense to your consumer and business. You should not be making products just because. You should be looking to design the type of products that can generate good margins or profits, rather than just revenue.

3) Have a go with Face-lifts.
Face or body lifts are a simple way to get new products out with little investment in R&D. This is a good short term strategy to use on your best platforms or best selling products and perhaps make them better. Another option is taking it out of house by engaging ODM organizations that have put their own platforms up for sale. While it sounds like a good idea and many companies practice it, do watch out for how this design strategy will impact your brand in the long term. Check out a recent guest article on this strategy at “The Underbelly of Design: Brand Dilution from Sourced Products” for a more in-depth discussion.

4) Clean up your brand strategies and communications.
This is a great time to ensure that your branding strategies are working well. Use insights from consumers to understand if you are communicating your product’s values correctly. Also Advertising &Promotion does not have to cost an arm and a leg these days. Sometimes a social media strategy can work wonders; a good example is what Nokia does whenever they release a new phone. Check out this example. At the very least start a blog and get your designers working on it.

5) Focus your marketing plans and make hard decisions.
It is time to make those hard decisions. Niche and focus marketing is the name of the game. If your business is crap in the USA why continue to play there? Get back to basics, and focus on your strengths, cover your weaknesses, prepare for threats, and leverage on opportunities. In all cases get design to be the key facilitator to communicate your objectives both internally and to the markets.

6) Employ and deploy great design processes and chain management.
It is time to not only look outside, but also inside. I’m sure you can do your design job a lot better and not only that I’m sure your design team can tell you how! (or provide some good suggestions) Connect with them, build the “Love”. “Love” is the most important thing for great team cohesiveness and a good team that “Loves”, does the job efficiently and effectively.

Don’t forget your overall development process too. Time to market, Product Architecture development, Technology implementation, BOM and Inventory management, and Market Research processes etc. can all be places for improvement, not just the design process.

7) Come up with strategic cost reduction product concepts.
Why waste great designers on doing face lifts when great designers can be used to come up with great cost saving strategic ideas. Developing platform design strategies, sustainable concepts, and even modular concepts are all great examples off the top of my head. I’m sure if you put your mind to it, even you could come up with a great product range concept.

8) Cost down your product.
Who says industrial designers can’t save money? One of the most under utilized skills that industrial designers have is analyzing a product and looking at creative ways of reducing BOM (Bill of Materials) cost by using different materials, redesign parts that can be manufactured better, improving assembling and disassembling processes etc. While it is not as glamorous as coming up with the next iPod, it still serves a vital function in any organization.

I recently met this guy who introduced me to this new manufacturing technology called NMT (Nano Molding Technology). It allows plastics to be injected molded over Aluminum creating an extremely strong bond with no extra post processing required. Imagine the future and the BOM costs you saved? This will be then end of the usual 2 piece: metal stuck with adhesive or tape over a plastic part execution.

9) Get design involved universally within your organization.
Designers are great problem solvers and facilitators of creative thinking. Get them involve in every facet of the organization, the creative outcome could be a boon to your organization. From better packing methods, to creative R&D management, the possibilities are endless.

10) Learn from your competition.
Finally take the opportunity to learn from the competition as they are probably struggling as much as you are. Study their strategic plans, and take advantage of their weakness to overtake them. Designers are perfect for this role, by looking after competitive market audits, product tear downs, benchmarking and lastly managing the all important design identity development and forecasting.

And what about you my friends what are you doing for your organization in these troubles times? Anything you might like to add or suggest? I look forward to reading them in the comment section below. Talk soon!

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