The Importance of Aesthetic Design

Long-time readers know I am a big fan of Virginia Postrel and her book The Substance of Style. IBD has an article that explains why.

Start-ups and established firms are finding that a strong product design is integral to success, not just something that makes them look hip.

Target Corp., (TGT) for instance, hit a bull's-eye by bringing designer goods to the masses. That began partly on a lark, but is now crucial to branding the Target discount store chain, where sales are rising.

Another design success can be found in the soap aisle. Newbie cleaning goods firm Method Home Care slid into a coveted slot on grocer shelves, thanks to the unique shapes and scents of its products, meant to accent kitchen and bathroom decor, not hide under the counter.

"Design is the last strategic advantage," said Walter Herbst, chairman of design firm Herbst Lazar Bell. "After you've done all your good channel work and pricing and eked out all the quality you can, there's nothing left but design, right? It's the only emotional tool you've got."

The article discusses Target's transformation into a high-style low-price retailer, a nice niche that has served them well. In an increasingly competitive world, it is difficult to obtain a competitive advantage through cost or distribution structures. Aesthetics is one way to command a premium. I think someday B-schools will offer a class for MBAs on the basic principles of aesthetic product design. Such knowledge will be necessary in the future.