“The majority of Polish companies implementing e-services copy the existing solutions and products developed by their competitors. They also show little innovativeness when it comes to the hierarchy of objectives and are unaware of the phenomenon referred to as service design” — says a recently published report entitled “E-Services Design. An Analysis of the Status of Design of Services Rendered Electronically and Prospects for Its Development in Poland”
The report was drawn up by the Institute of Industrial Design for the Electronic Economy Department of the Ministry of Economy. A few years ago the Institute published a similar report devoted to design in the area of non-material goods. Although that report regarded more traditional branches of the economy, its diagnosis was quite similar to that of the present report devoted to electronic media. Namely, the main problem is that most Polish companies perceive design as carrying only an aesthetic value, i.e. the value of design boils down to making sure that a product (in this case a website used to provide services) appeals to the consumer.
The aesthetic aspect of design is important, however such an attitude to design is a huge mistake. What is particularly upsetting is the lack of an in-depth understanding of the true role of design, particularly on the part of companies operating in the business, so important today. Lack of knowledge and awareness in this area does not bode well for the development of e-services in our country.
The importance of design and its role is shown in a very interesting way in the biography of Steve Jobs published last year (although design is not the main theme of the book). “In most people's vocabularies, design means veneer. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a human-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service” — says Jobs in one of the interviews quoted in his biography.
I believe Jobs’s biography should be an obligatory reading for all those dealing with design professionally. Not just because Apple’s, and more specifically Steve Jobs’s attitude is worth copying. I’d say, it’s not necessarily such a good idea. Advising a manager of a Polish innovative company to be like Steve Jobs would in most cases be like showing them how to commit a quick and spectacular suicide. The value of the book lies in that it refers to examples of well-known products and that it describes, in a fascinating way, the way to develop great solutions — market hits, showing the traps that one may fall into while developing them.
Steve Jobs was a perfectionist, leading his companies (Apple, Next, Pixar, Apple again) to huge success, but he was also capable of creating a havoc that would make people turn away from him. I doubt if many readers of his biography would really like to come across someone like the founder of Apple in their professional career. Probably, if it wasn’t for his achievements, well known to millions of users, he could be an anonymous character of a book devoted to toxic bosses. His unpleasant personality and behavior toward his coworkers and employees may have been outweighed, to a certain extent, by his true passion for developing new, revolutionary products, and his drive to change the world.
This is only a side remark, though. Even though the case of Apple and Steve Jobs should definitely not be treated as an example to follow, at least not entirely, there are many great case studies worth looking at, especially if one works in an innovative company. It’s not by accident that many of them appear in books on business management.
The attitude of Steve Jobs to design is not easy to judge. He represents an extreme case, which has good and bad sides. The thing is that in most companies design is subordinated to engineering. The starting point during the creation of a new product are specifications created by engineers, and the role of designers is to adapt the appearance of a product to these specifications. Apple, at least during Jobs’s reign, did it the other way around. It was the expected appearance of a product that engineers were expected to adapt concrete solutions to. The benefits of this approach were huge — surprising, unique products (at least for some time before the competition managed to copy them) and the exceptional position of the company on the market — products of no other high-tech company were as wanted as those of Apple.
But the losses resulting from this approach were also huge — apart from “standard” ones, including delays or going over budget, there have been more serious failures. What’s most important, though, is that as a result of concentrating on bringing a product as close to perfection as possible, the company applied a market strategy as a result of which it lost to PCs and Microsoft in the first decade of its existence, and today may lose to Google and its Android.
There are of course more reasons to read the book than just design. Everyone who’s interested in the issue of innovation realizes that Apple occupies an exceptional place in this area. You don’t have to be fanatic about its products to admit that Apple is not just one of many technology companies, but rather an exceptional case.