Budget Allocation and Good Design: A Catch 22

Some of the panels from the 2006 CES are downloadable as podcasts. I would like to point out an interesting observation in one of the panels. One of the panelists sates that that good design is more expensive (obvious point), but very important. Marketers cannot see a cost benefit in spending more money on good design in order to cut down support costs. After all, the customer support department has its own budget; and this is how the company is left to deal with unintuitive product design. So, with that in mind, a sales/marketing/product management department has no incentive to spend money on good design because it is more money out of their own budget, which could cut into their bottom line personally if are rewarded with a bonus if sales are good (forgoing support expenses that are far removed from themselves). A company could allocate budgets to departments in a way where the departments work autonomously; not a good thing.

The panelist point out that marketers may have more pull in the company than designers. And support may have even less impact on either department. This is most definitely can occur in large, slow companies where the decision makers have been with the company for a long time. As pointed out by It’s Not the Big that Eat the Small…It’s the Fast that Eat the Slow by Jason Jennings and Laurence Haughton, people often do a better job (or at least do it with more passion) during their first year. Then, as change occurs, they can sometimes not adapt in order to prove that the way they did it back then continues to work, even through it may not be working. This will be true of big and slow companies. They point out that this can be avoided by moving the people around into different positions.

My theory is that these slow, old decision makers and the people that oversee them may not decide to adapt to changes in the market, and are not creating a system where great design and a great customer experience are placed before bonuses and marketers’ opinions.

Apple Computers and 37 Signals are great examples of companies that have created a situation where customers’ experience is paramount. They realize that if they make this happens profits, envy, and admiration in the design scene will follow. Jason Fried at 37 Signals is small enough to care about every aspect of the company, specifically, customer experience. Steve Jobs at Apple is the cutting edge of cool design and great customer experience. If more companies could emulate the customer experience these companies could provide instead of simply looking at products and services (the end product), they may get somewhere. Maybe someday we will be able to arbor a company that strives to do anything less than this.

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