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March 1st, 2019

Time Economy // Part II: Design with a Capital D

BY Stoke Strategy

Ask someone to define “design” and they’ll typically describe it in elementary terms. The more right-brain emotive types lean toward aesthetics – how something appears or appeals to the senses. The left-brain analytical types orient toward functionality – how well something performs for its intended purpose. Look for a definition in a dictionary and you won’t be any more impressed.

But these definitions lack the richness or prismatic quality that the discipline of “Design” has come to mean. More than a handsome communication piece, or a pragmatic product feature, strategic Design is a deeper – increasingly essential – core competency.

Today’s most clever and successful organizations embrace Design – with a capital D – as the foundation for creating value for customers.

So to communicate that potential, we felt compelled to create our own definition:

Design = The Concentration of Value in Time.

The Marketer’s Search for Value

At its core, marketing is about satisfying customer needs. But most companies think of customer satisfaction in an arithmetic of usefulness vs. financial cost.

So they raise utility by enhancing features, expanding access and increasing variety. Diet Coke extends to Diet Cherry Coke. A Starbucks on one end of the mall becomes a Starbucks on both ends. Your McEggwich now includes a free coffee when you use the app.  

They then obsess to shave costs, create channel efficiency and tap cheaper suppliers. But in a global economy, cost advantages perpetually alternate between providers. And with the transparency of the Internet, there are few barriers to discovering more utility, for less money.

When value creation is organization-centric – focused on product and service expansion and iterative improvement – you’re stuck playing leapfrog with your competitors, temporarily jumping to the front – then quickly getting jumped over. Advantages become incremental and fleeting. Brand relationships become fickle.

The Key to New Value

Previously we’ve introduced the dynamic of the ‘Time Economy.’ Consumers are saturated in information, over-supplied with endless array of options, and with little ability to make sense of it all. In an accelerated, technological world, what they value most is time.

Price is just one consideration in a world where people’s time is increasingly squeezed and frustratingly finite. So, today’s marketers are challenged to concentrate more value in customers’ time. (Enter, Design.)

The foundational skill of design is empathy, a customer-centrism. So when you flip the script, and put what customers value – time – at the center of discussions, you’ll reliably find design opening new avenues to innovation.

When something is well designed, it adds value with respect to the time we spend with it. It makes things simple or operates with human intuition. It may be stunningly beautiful or quietly handsome. It helpfully anticipates your needs, enriches your senses, or leaves you more informed, engaged or fulfilled.

The world’s most profitable companies are obsessed with customer empathy, and design is how they demonstrate it. They understand that every gesture, big or small, is an opportunity to create beautiful, interconnected, intelligent, predictive, delightful experiences. They transcend customer expectations, to earn deep devotion by delivering experiential value in unexpected ways.

Let’s consider a micro-experience: the volume control on your iPhone earbuds. One click on the toggle turns the volume down. Two clicks turns it down further. But two quick clicks in a row and the sound turns off entirely. Why? Because designers realized that if you’re listening to music, and meet a friend, you want to quickly quiet the music – without the hassle of clicking the toggle 10 times.

While this isn’t a life-or-death design feature, the company’s attention to the smallest detail expresses their deep empathy for the user. More than just a time-saver, it says, “We understand what you need and how you like to do things – without you having to tell us.” It’s predictive, empathetic, and elegant. It adds value to your time.

Great design is the most efficient way a company can communicate that it truly cares about the customer.

How Design Delivers Value in Time

For customers, time has become the dominant axis of brand value. Once the axiom was “Time is money.” For consumers today, “Time is greater than money.”

This invites a shift in thinking, to how products and services concentrate value in time.

UPS, for example, employs customer-centric design thinking. As a delivery company, they could simple settle for shifting packages, as expected. But UPS recognizes that its customers often experience some anxiety when expecting a delivery. Where is my package right now? When will it get to my house? What if I’m not here when it arrives? What it it’s stolen? So, UPS ‘My Choice’ service allows you to easily re-route a package if you’re not home or reschedule to a specific day. Or view a real-time map showing the current location of the truck carrying your delivery. And at $40 membership per year ‘My Choice’ generates hundreds of millions of dollars by concentrating value in time.

Instead of simply chasing lower-cost, faster shipping or a courtesy text message upon delivery, UPS provides an experience that magnifies the value for customers. Beyond mere convenience, the solution seeks to inspire confidence, a measure of esteem, and affords a greater sense of control — making the time you spend with the company more delightful and rewarding.

In the Time Economy, the customer is the product.

Too often, companies are eager for the technical homerun. But it’s zealous consideration of the constellation of customer experiences – Design – that signals your empathy. By moving the brand value conversation from feature differentiation with respect to financial cost — to relevance and experience, using time as a measure of value – we can develop more meaningful offerings that people truly value.


Next up>> How Amazon is bending time to get ahead of the need curve….