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The Design Advantage: How To Make Your Business Stand Out In Today's Market While having a great product is the first and the most important step, in today's market, it is often not enough to keep you ahead of the curve. This is why investing into a user experience design has proved to be a differentiating strategy.

By Amol R. Kadam

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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In one of his lectures in 1973, Thomas Watson Jr. said to Wharton students: "Good design is a good business idea." It seemed far-fetched and almost silly at that time to many. But, in today's context, what does your startup, a small local business, and a large company, such as Apple, have in common? The answer is very simple. All of these and other businesses depend on one core metric -users enjoying their products and services– for the business to become successful. The importance of user experience and designing it correctly has gained more attention in the last decade from the companies who aim to keep their users happy.

In the recent years, the region has seen a surge in concepts, such as UX and usability. The investments in these concepts have grown by almost 300% in 2015 and 2016. Brands have taken notice of the importance of UX Design and are investing more and more into it, slowly but surely. The early adoption of these concepts is limited to digital in almost all cases. Nevertheless, it is a step in the right direction. Be it physical or digital, a product or a service, it is bound to evoke both an emotional and intellectual response in its consumers based not only on the way it works, but also how it looks and feels. Whether that experience is going to be a good or a bad one, it is bound to have a direct effect on your success. This is exactly where a good UX design proves to be absolutely crucial.

As startups and new businesses bloom in the region, they are trying to follow the new universal culture where everyone works with everyone else and does almost everything around the office. They all work on one common goal and objective. But, of course, different roles have different responsibilities, and although it's a shared responsibility, marketing people are often the closest to caring about great user experience.

Marketing people often dedicate a great deal of focus on bringing people to the product or service. They invest great effort in getting the exposure and reaching the consumer. Some also look at how these consumers are converting, such as the booking of a reservation, leads, calls, and so on, while the experience of the user, when he reaches your business, product, site or an app, gets short shrift. If that experience is not what customers want -if it's not clean, clear, concise, compelling, relevant and unique- then the brand suffers and the end goal isn't met.

Related: Design Matters: Enabling Experiences For Your Customers

The same is true about services. In fact, the service experience is critical since measuring it is a lot trickier than the digital conversion loops. What most brand miss out on is the fact that the experience starts way before the digital touch point and ends way after. The wave of experience economy has raised customer expectations, bringing the need to create the personalized and engaging experience across all channels, and not limited to digital. To be successful, businesses need to create worthwhile customer experiences- and then innovate to exceed customer expectations or at least to match them.

According to a recent Gartner study, 89% of companies globally expect to compete mainly on the basis of customer experience in the coming years. By 2020, it's predicted that a customer will manage 85% of their relationship with a brand without even interacting with a human. Therefore, many brands, delivering in-the-moment digital experiences, now require a transformation of their technology foundation to move towards being an experience-led business. While for most businesses "digital" is still a "fad," a "gimmick," a "marketing tactic" or a "me too" approach, the truth is that mobile, analytics, social media, artificial intelligence, VR, sensors and cloud computing have already fundamentally changed the entire business landscape as we know it. It's time to take it a step forward by giving it a user "context" and "relevance," two of the most important and neglected words in this market.

When experiencing a product or service, if it leaves the user with a foul taste in their mouth, they will quickly take their business elsewhere. 90% of users reported that they stopped using an app due to poor performance, and 86% deleted or uninstalled an app as a result of encountering problems with its functionality or design. Meanwhile, studies show that 86% of users believe an exceptional customer experience is worth paying extra. With these figures in mind, it is not difficult to understand why user experience-focused companies, like Apple, Google, Dropbox and Amazon, are leaders in their respective fields year after year.

While having a great product is the first and the most important step, in today's market, it is often not enough to keep you ahead of the curve. This is why investing into a user experience design has proved to be a differentiating strategy. The industrial revolution has passed. Not the number of features but a pleasing UX has been proven to earn the users' interest, business, and most of all– their loyalty. 48% of users say that arriving on a business site that isn't working well on mobile will be seen as an indication of the business simply not caring, and 52% said that a bad mobile experience made them less likely to engage with a company in the future.

The principle extends to beyond just mobile devices- 40% of users will abandon a web page if it takes more than few seconds to load, while 79% will search for another site to complete their task.

Design for an experience

Design is more than just aesthetics. It's more than a killer idea, a creative marketing concept or graphical output. It's more than just how something looks, it's about how something works in front of the user and beyond the digital interface. Companies like Uber and Airbnb realize that, but there is still a huge opportunity to tap into when it comes to converting design thinking into actual business results. I look at it in a way that every business has a new secret weapon if they get it right. I call that the design advantage. Often marketers and brands keep focusing on other USPs and neglect this. Its importance is usually forgotten as an afterthought, but a good experience design can bring some significant business benefits.

The effective use of user-centric experience design gives customers a reason to buy from you and not from your competitors. It's a very unique aspect of differentiation- a well-designed product or service experience will stand out from the competition.

Related: Democratic Design Doctrine: Business Outcomes Through Experience Co-Creation

Design also adds value to products and services. Customers are usually willing to spend more for well-designed products that can offer them benefits, such as greater usability, relevant functionality, improved aesthetics and, most importantly, a better overall experience while interacting with it.

But, as well as enhancing the products and services you sell, design can also improve the way your business operates - the efficiency of its processes, the cost-effectiveness of the raw materials it uses, back office processes, the efficiency of your team and the quality of its packaging, and although it's just a byproduct, it still adds to the bottom line.

A good experience design can also cut production costs. Careful design of the manufacturing process, for instance, can bring substantial savings. Building an experience-led business should be the number-one agenda topic for marketers in the region in 2017 and the years to come. Customer experiences that are consistent, continuous, and compelling are much talked about, but much harder to build and deliver. They require organizational alignment and the breaking down of traditional siloes across the business.

Have an outside-in mindset What would competitors need to do today to put us out of business? You need to look at your product or service from an outsider's eyes. Figure out how users spend their day, knowing just the demographics is not enough to know your users. You should stop thinking from an insider's point of view.

Use empathy for users and stakeholders Arguably, empathy underpins experience design more than anything else. Without it, we would all essentially be flying blind, lacking any clues as to what our users want or need from the things we create. It's true for stakeholders too. Their vision, idea and emotions need to be translated into the design.

Empathy allows us to imagine ourselves in our users' shoes and better understand why they love (or hate) our creations, however, it's not their thought processes, but their emotions that we're attempting to understand.

Emotions can be used to persuade and shape our users' decisions to better meet our goals and/or expectations. Having the ability to understand the driving factors behind our users' decisions is paramount in helping us design better products for them.

Collaborate in multi-disciplinary teams Sometimes business people think their company has unique circumstances that prohibit the emulation of problem-solving strategies that have proven successful in other industries or disciplines. This could not be further from the truth. Many times, the best ideas are already out there; all you have to do is identify the ones that would work for your situation.

Henry Ford got the idea for assembly line production for manufacturing cars from visiting slaughter houses that used a similar technique. Cattle and cars don't seem to have much in common from the surface, but the strategy for efficiently delivering a final product to consumers is a great fit for both industries. When different mindsets, expertize and even cultures work on a single goal, the collaborative results can be amazing.

Fail early and often Being agile and having pace is really important. This gives you the ability to reach early to your consumers and learn from every iteration. The more you fail and the earlier you fail, the better your next version will be. Also never stop prototyping and testing it again and again with real users. Never stop evolving the experience you design to today's ever-changing consumer behavior patterns.

Related: Design: The Hidden Driver Of Digital Reinvention

Amol R. Kadam

Co-founder, RBBi

Amol Kadam is the co-founder of RBBi, the region’s first, specialized user experience (UX), user interface (UI) and digital performance marketing agency, operating in Dubai since 2011.

Coming from a strong creative & usability background spanning more than 16 years, Amol has conceptualized, designed and managed the production of several digital projects for a global range of clients from banking, hospitality, travel, real-estate and more. Amol’s areas of expertise include user experience, usability, online branding and strategy, information architecture, interaction design, online and offline interactive media, digital media. Among other strategic tasks within the agency, his role involves creating usability and UX road-map strategies for interaction media.

Amol is the holder of a master’s qualification in HCI. He is also a certified usability professional and a registered member of Usability Professionals Association Worldwide.

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