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Bad Traffic Light Design

When it comes to cost cutting, many times it’s design or marketing that goes first. This is like an applicant ditching the cover letter on their resume when the job market is down: it’s laughably bad timing. (You’re business is the applicant; your customer is interviewing your product all day every day. See how that works?)

So, why is such a silly mistake so common? It has to do with vocabulary. Even people who don’t care about design, care about it. They just think they don’t care, because they don’t know the language. They don’t take note of poorly thought out ergonomics when they encounter them, but they sure recognize it when they’ve purchased a product the maker clearly never used for it’s intended purpose. When they feel they’ve wasted money, they certainly do take note. And they tell their friends.

People who say design is unimportant are taking it for granted. We’re literally surrounded by products, information, and communication that’s been worked over and focused grouped to death. Example: there are 300 kinds of cereal at the grocery store. All of these companies have 0.1 seconds to pitch to you as you fly down the aisle, hoping your rug-rat doesn’t see the really-sugary-crap, but does see the kind-of-sugary-crap that you want. The cereal companies know this, and 90% of those boxes have been meticulously designed to stop you and/or your kid dead in your tracks.

We are inundated with superbly designed products. A lot of us don’t know it, but it’s more likely that we just don’t know what to call it. When we see an ad with bad kerning, even if you don’t know what’s wrong with it, you still think it looks cheap; an impression you immediately transfer to the product. This doesn’t make you someone who’s into typography, it makes you a seasoned consumer. Which is what most of us are by the age of 6, thanks to McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and co.

So what about it? Well, if you want to sell somebody something; an idea, an mp3 player, whatever; then you’d better get your design shoes on. Or pay someone else to do the legwork for you.

A 3-year Fortune-500 study conducted by research firm Peer Insight found companies focused on customer-experience design outperformed the S&P 500 by 10-to-1 from 2000-2005. One more time for those in the back: that was 10-1. Your customers care about design; a lot; ten-to-one a lot. Even if they don’t (know it).

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