‘Cosmetic’ is a Toxic Word for Designers, Who Care About the Customer Experience

“Can you prove that your design efforts adds any value to our products?”, was the question from a senior technical colleague, clearly detached from any design ideology. Though I often dismiss such question on a moronic notion, it did make me think of a response, that would make him understand in relatable terms. I could start to teach him about progressive design (PD°), talk about strategies and tactics, but I might lose him in what is often decades of studies, before reaching a design understanding. The simple answer was, “Can you prove that your functions adds value to our products?”. His face started to question my intelligence, as the answer was disputing the most fundamental part of our products. “Yes, without functions, we wouldn’t have a product”, he responded with a defensive tone. “You’re right”, I added and continued, “but without a product story, a customer purpose, we wouldn’t know what functions are needed”. He started to look confused and stated, “story isn’t design, thats business insight”. In his world, design was just frosting on the cake, something nice-to-have.

After describing the achievements in progressive design (PD°), he started to understand that we needed each other, as my story became his functions which became my experience to the customers. That the story I created, the product personality, needed a skeleton and muscles from his team of skilled technicians, which then needed a beautiful layer of skin. In the end, what I envisioned, he brought to life and with the final attention to the experience, we avoided creating frankensteins monster.

Though the experience is the final layer of your product and its production, it is often overlooked or rushed. The experience is the most important principle, as you wrap your product and all its efforts, hiding the raw and unemotional engine beneath it. At the core, the story and personality is a beating heart, pumping blood into your product. Without the experience, to tie it all together, it fails to communicate this story and personality, as we just see the raw and cold material, the scars and veins of a rushed exterior design.

It is important to know, that we all have a different perception of beauty and we might not all understand what the customers need and their emotional relation, as this understanding is an empathic ability to see through the customers eyes. We often see and perceive the product through our own eyes, resonating with the product as an ego-centric observation.

In a meeting with business management, we where focusing on adjusting the final and eminent production problems, prioritizing issues. In this meeting, the words, “let’s not focus on cosmetics, as we have bigger problems to address”, was stated across the table. Though I agree with the statement, the word cosmetic is a toxic expression and merely defines design as a style, a superficial layer, a nice-to-have. Cosmetic is the user experience, it is the face we relate to and interact with. If the experience isn’t resonating with the customer, then the product isn’t resonating, thus failing as a trust, as a believe, as a name, as a brand and as a company.

This article is from the book, Product Design Dilemmas. A modern design ideology for customer driven designers and managers.