Technology, design, quality, and price are commodities.

No matter if a product is physical, service, content, digital or a combination of them, we should think of them the same way.

The advancement of technology, design, and production processes brought the unprecedented level of quality products and services at affordable price. The name of the game today is to provide customers with a product, service, or a combination of both, that has enough value for them, that they are prepared to pay a price for it. 

Resistance is futile

At the beginning of the Renaissance, the Church resisted the progress and development of science.  Giordano Bruno was executed, Galileo Galilei was forced to change his claims, and the book by Nikolas Copernicus — in which he claimed that the earth revolves around the sun, and not vice versa — was included on the Index of Forbidden Books.

As the industrial revolution unfolded in the early 19th century, a group of English textile workers called Luddites destroyed machines in an attempt to halt the progress of technology, fearing that they would be replaced by the machinery.

The progress is exponential, it compounds on itself, and moves only in one direction.

Not every consequence of the progress is positive, for certain, but that is the nature of it. Developing technology enables previously unimaginable business models, value propositions, and redistribution of value. Traditional jobs are lost, but new ones are created, industries are disrupted, traditional companies are endangered, but there is more value for customers and traditional companies have to adapt themselves to new standards by reinventing themselves. This might destroy them or give them unprecedented possibilities for growth and development.

Technology and design are ubiquitous

THE COMPUTING POWER that we are carrying with us at all times is a couple of times greater than that which put a man on the moon.

Computing itself has become ubiquitous, and the same goes for the physical devices that enable it, and the information processed and delivered by them. Even the decision-making done on our behalf by embedded artificial intelligence, enabled by cognitive computing, has become ubiquitous. Technology, design, and quality have become commodities, and the right combination of them is what counts.

WHAT IS A PRODUCT? A product fulfils a desire, solves a problem, gets a job done for its user, and has enough value that the user is prepared to pay for it. No matter if they are physical, service, content, or digital, we should think of them more or less the same way.

We should treat physical products the same as a digital ones or services. Software is an integral part of a physical device and should be treated like it. The shape of a device should support the functions of the physical world, ergonomy, and of the software that runs on it. User interface is a part of a corporate identity.  Decisions the AI takes on behalf of users, and recommendations it gives should follow the values and morals of the brand.

SOFTWARE, HARDWARE, OR… The boundaries between analogue and digital, offline and online, and hardware and software are fading. Not only products, the features of the same product can be of different kinds. The physical button on the hardware device is actually one of more important software features.

Design research and service design deal with understanding the customer/user needs, pains, and behaviours, identifying their contacts with the brand, its services, and products. The points of interaction between user and brand are called brand touchpoints, by identifying them over the timeline, we are able to map the entire “customer journey,” all interactions and value transactions between user and brand over the entire customer lifecycle. From the first time the customer learns about the brand, the information gathering, decision-making, purchasing (conversion?), post purchase support, and — hopefully — a happy customer’s recommendation to others leading to repeated purchases.

BRAND TOUCHPOINTS. A typical cycle of a user interactions with a brand consists of different stages, usually “pre-,” “during,” and “post-” use. We can control some points of interaction directly, like brand promise, advertising, a website, packaging, product, onboarding, support, etc. Other touchpoints we can only influence indirectly — if at all; i.e. delivery, user community, reviews, etc. This cycle — with endless specific variations — generally applies to all kinds of products and services.

Here we are. Now, what?

There are already many different design and communication disciplines — each with its own technical and professional specifics — and more will emerge as a result of technology development. New technological solutions will require new ways to manage them and their interaction with users. Other technologies will simply offer new possibilities that were not previously available. The more disciplines there are and the more specialised and sophisticated they become, the greater the need for them to work together and to orchestrate their work around the real needs and values of their users.

What we as designers, managers, and entrepreneurs are dealing with in our product and brand-building toolbox is a set of constituent blocks; starting with brand values and beliefs, a value proposition, and business models, followed by physical and digital products, interfaces, content, marketing communications, services, and platforms. The different building blocks that define and populate all the touchpoints at which the user comes in the contact with us, with our products, and brands.

It is on us to provide our user a consistent experience on all these online, offline, persons and bots, physical and digital interfaces, promises, and deliveries. The user will get his or her own impression of a brand. If it will be negative, it’s on us.

Next: The state of the marketing. Advertising won’t go away but it will find its role in the broader brand ecosystem. Advertising induced emotions may persuade people to buy the product, but if the product itself, its user experience, quality of the build and after purchase support don’t deliver on the brand promise or don’t bring real value for users, there is no way to build a long-term sustainable brand.

Matevž Medja is a co-founder of the award-winning design agency Gigodesign, with more than 25 years of experience in building interdisciplinary teams on complex projects. He believes the world is already too full of products nobody needs and brands nobody believes in. He’d like to help develop new ones properly. Read more.