Book review: Design is How it Works

Now that I turned in my thesis, I’ve been catching up on reading. The first book I read was Jay Greene’s, Design Is How It Works: How the Smartest Companies Turn Products into Icons, recommended to me by my friend and empathetic designer, Lily.

This book is meant for non-designers who want to understand the competitive advantage design can offer beyond aesthetics. All cases presented in the book touch on companies that use design thinking and/or service design to strengthen their brand, strengthen communities of practice around their products, or drive innovation.

This was a really interesting book to read for several reasons:

  • I got caught up on interesting brands and their innovation strategies outlined by the book. I have had a low level of brand awareness of some of these companies e.g. Clif, REI, ACE Hotels, and OXO (not having lived in the US since 2006).
  • Several cases move from reaching new communities to creating communities. Nike not only reached the skate community by listening, but they also created communities through service design, e.g. Nike+ ecosystem.
  • The founding stories of many cases started from founders designing for themselves in response to a pain point and creating companies whose employees are also users and champions of their brand. Friction points or as an insider to a niche community are a good starting points for innovation because of the deep understanding already in place.
  • Greene also outlines challenges and threats to companies that have failed or may fail to remain true to their vision. LEGO just reconnected to customers. Will Ace Hotels be able to successfully scale their operation while remaining true to their original vision?

This supports my belief that design is a holistic endeavor and that innovation and learning must be a continuous process. I’ve outlined a table of strategies and factors I identified from the case studies: products for niche communities, products in response to pain points, company culture built around niche communities, service/experience design, and innovation model.

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