The importance of design in business

Apr 11, 2012

Table of contents:

  1. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication
  2. Square
  3. Path
  4. Instagram
  5. Design is much more than how something looks

Over the last couple of years, good design has seen as a rising importance in the success of a business. Arguably started by Apple with the return of Steve Jobs to the company he founded and the launch of the iPhone, beautiful design has now become one of the most important differentiators in a crowded and densly populated market place.

For many years, Engineering was seen as the most important role in a technology company. Google was founded and populated early with Phd Engineers and it has only been in recent years that a more design focused strategy has been adopted by the company. Similarly, in recent months, consumer Internet giant Facebook has been acquir-hiring droves of designers to bring elegance to it’s Engineering focused platform. Two such examples are Gowalla and Sofa, and Facebook has integrated design into the core of it’s strategy.

With the likes of Google and Facebook turning their focus to design, hiring and holding on to the best new design talent is becoming increasingly expensive and difficult.

If these design lead technology trends have not already convinced you to put precedence on design in your company, here is why I think your company should focus more on design in order to gain competitive advantage in your industry.

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication

Apple is a company that was founded on a number of principles that form the idiology of a vision that has seen them rise, then fall, then rise once again as the most valuable technology company in the world. Inspired by great designers of the past, Steve Jobs stood on the sholders of the likes of Dieter Rams and Leonardo Da Vinci. Jobs, and his head of design Jonathon Ive, had an intense focus on the design of every aspect of Apple’s products, from engineering to how the package would be opened by the customer. It is this intense focus, and the increadible rise of Apple in recent years that has sparked the new renaissance of design.

Apple’s focus on the design of it’s product has spawned a new generation of entrepreneuers that have followed in the footsteps of Steve Jobs to craft their companies in the same light. You don’t have to look far to see how the likes of Jack Dorsey, Dave Morin or Kevin Systrom have been so influenced by Apple, that they too have an intense focus on the design of their companies.


Jack Dorsey’s second company, Square could of been cut from the same cloth as Apple. Square began life as a small device you could plug into the headphone jack of an iPhone to take payments from a credit or debit card. Square has expanded to become a disruptive force in the small business and payment industries, but has not lost it’s focus on esquisit design. It is that vision of design that has lead Square to hire many of Apple’s most talented designers away from the technology giant, and you only have to look at the design of Square’s website to see the influence Apple have had on the company.

Whilst Square is undoubtably a disruptive technology force in it’s own right, it would be unfair to say that the design vision of the company has not aided that huge growth. In fact it is that design focus that will separate Square from the likes of PayPal who are fighting to become part of the mobile small payments industry that Square has created.

The important lesson to learn from Square is, when creating a new industry, design is one aspect that will instantly resonate with your potential audience.


Path is a mobile-only social network founded by early Facebook employee Dave Morin. Dave left Facebook as Facebook’s growth was exploding worldwide to found Path, an alternative social network with the vision of sharing to only your closest friends and family. Path 1.0 was a moderate success, but Path 2.0 reignighted the company as it found it’s feet through simple, intuitive and elegant design.

The social network market is already crowded and has an established market leader in Facebook. Path’s focus on design has pushed what is expected in mobile social networking and has forced Facebook into the recent designer hiring spree.

The important lesson to learn from Path is, when faced with a dominant market leader, design can be one of the most important differentiaters to attract a loyal niche of customers.


Instagram is a mobile-only social network that is centered around photography and sharing moments through pictures. Instagram has a huge, loyal community of over 30 million iOS users and has recently launched on Android.

Instagram has become an unstoppable force and has crushed a number of competing, yet strickinly similar services. The reason for Instagram’s success can be attributed to a number of key areas such as the enthusiastic community, increasingly sophisticated smartphone technology or even the piggybacking of services such as Twitter and Tumblr that have seen exponential growth in recent years. However, I think much of Instagram’s success is down to design.

Design is far more than the User Interface of buttons or typography. Much of Instagram’s success is down to the intuitive nature of the User Experience design. For instance, Instagram is able to quickly upload your phote to their servers because it is secretly working in the background to give the user a quick and responsive experience. When Instragram laucnhed it’s 2.0 of the service, the team introduced live filters and instant tilt shift, again shaving seconds off the user’s experience. Often it’s not what you see that is important to design, the intagible forces of User Experience play as big a role as how things look.

The important lesson to learn from Instagram is, design should be a philosophy of your company and not somthing that is tacked on at the end to try and give a poor quality a product that shine of appeal. Design is deep routed into the inner workings of your company, and not amount of polish can hide that fact.

Design is much more than how something looks

If you only every think about design at the final stages of a project, you will fail. Design is about much more than how something looks, it’s about how it works, what is it trying to achieve and what is the best way of achieving it. Startups, this is how design works is a fantastic one page website that gives a great overview of the history of design and why it should be important to your company.

As a business, you need to differentiate yourself from the competition. Price is often the first choice, but it is an eventual race to the bottom where no-one wins. If you choose design as your differentiation, you will position your company has a exquisite, trustworthy and high quality business.

Philip Brown


© Yellow Flag Ltd 2024.