Psychology of Design – by Richard Lee

One of my wife’s favorite stores for home furnishings is Restoration Hardware.  So when I saw its fall 2011 catalog sitting on the coffee table, I took a minute to glance through it.  It was nicely bound with luxurious cover page that read “There are pieces that furnish a home.  And those that define it.”  The CEO’s welcome letter started with a line “Every movement has a lunatic fringe…”  Huh?  He goes on to talk about America’s first Nobel Prize winner and how his company is inspired by progressive thinkers.  OK, I get it…  

I turn the pages to find more and more pictures of hallways, living rooms, kitchens that I would want to live in.  Nice layout; appropriate, insightful, witty commentaries; I could not put it down until I reached the end of the 600+ page catalog.  As far as RH is concerned, mission accomplished.  The founder of cult yogurt shop Pinkberry is famous for pushing form as well as function.  He once stated that his learning how lighting, mood and music affect consumer behavior did not come from formal education in design, rather his after-hours job as a doorman at a night club.  Well, who can argue with Pinkberry’s success, especially after recent 30MM in growth capital investment from the Starbucks founder.

The rest of the corporate world is catching on what the Madison Avenue and other advertising and PR executives have always evangelized – form counts as much as function.  Presentation is equally as important as content.  Who can forget a Silicon Valley urban legend of Steve Jobs walking into early Mac keyboard assembly line and asking an engineer to open up the cover to the back of the keyboard?  When the wiring behind the scenes did not meet his standards in the aesthetics department, he demanded a redesign. 

As WSJ recently proclaimed, forget B-school.  These days, D.school is the place to go.  The trend is yet another step up from mass customization.  It’s a combination of psychological and almost anthropological observation of human needs to solve problems that have yet to be articulated in order to best forecast demand.  From consumer products to professional services to B2B offerings, we can no longer ignore the psychology of design in order to arrive at desirable results.  Besides…   How else would Milli Vanilli have found a career in lip synching?

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About Richard Lee
Experienced finance and operations professional. Currently partner in five companies, adjunct professor of economics at Columbia College and executive contributor to a small business blog (www.SMBmatters.com); following corporate finance, M&A and management consulting tenures with Orbitz and Diamond Technology Partners; and six years of service with the United States Army.

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