Grand Designs Can Stir Emotions, Sales

NEW YORK Product design plays a key role in larger marketing plans owing to its ability to influence both rational and emotional buying decisions, said E*Trade CMO Nick Utton at the Future Marketing Summit here on Monday.

The event, co-sponsored by Adweek, featured a panel of industry executives who attempted to place design in a contemporary communications context.

“The iPhone. I want one,” Utton said of Apple’s sleek new smart phone, which through design communicates messages such as: “It’s cool. It’s going to have great technology.”

Utton said design is as important to E*Trade as it is to hardware clients like Apple.

“Out site is our storefront,” he said. “Is it easy to use? Does it have the best technology? If not, you’re screwed,” and by extension, E*Trade could lose customers.

Stefan Boubil, an interior designer, started a lively debate when he asserted that design is primarily about function. “At its core, design is about usability,” he said.

Brian Collins, ecd, Brand Integration Group, part of Ogilvy & Mather, shot back, “I couldn’t disagree more,” adding that Boubil’s comment reduced the discipline “to a merely utilitarian function.”

Victor Newman, founder of Freestyle Collective, struck a balance, noting that both function and aesthetics are necessary for a product to be considered well designed.

He cited Apple’s iPod as fusing form and function. “The iPod isn’t just about design,” Newman said. “It’s changed the way our culture listens to music.”

The panelists agreed that design is too often “tacked on” at the end of the creative process.

“You guys take that and put it on the Web,” said Daljit Singh, founder of Digit, of agencies’ attitudes toward designers. “The level of importance [for the discipline] is changing,” because of consumers’ increased demand for design in making a product’s usability a more pleasant experience, he said.