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Iconic and lasting design is made up of both physical and emotional design elements. It’s the tangible object and all of its standard characteristics like shape, size and feel, and also the “je ne sais quoi” that demands your attention. A perfect combination of all design elements set it apart and make it more than just a vacuum cleaner, a TV, a toaster.

Iconic design doesn’t come along often, but when it does, it can capture consumers’ imaginations, and go so far as to evoke a specific place or time. What makes these aspirational products stand out goes far beyond utility — it stems from designers who truly understand the consumer and are able to place them at the center of the entire brand experience.

Looks matter

Imagine if the myriad colors you experience in the cereal aisle or in a toy store carried over to other places. Can you picture electronics store shelves filled with bright orange, blue, and yellow smartphones? Or a home improvement store with refrigerators available in the colors of the rainbow? If sight is the first chance we have to make a first impression with consumers, why are some product categories, like the majority of consumer electronics, devoid of color? Physical design should grab attention and make you want to reach out and touch a product.

Compared to the standard shelf full of black smartphones or row of stainless steel refrigerators we’re accustomed to, products like the Smeg refrigerator or our brightly colored Nokia Lumia smartphones are bound to stand out. Consumers have proven time and again that they crave unique design — something that will spark conversations — and they’re willing to pay for it.

One of the most popular purchases for high-powered financial executives and newly minted millionaires, for example, is the coveted sports car. While the most aspirational models — Ferraris and Lamborghinis — come in flashy reds and yellows and metallic blues, the rest of us motor through life in grey and black SUVs we didn’t buy on special order. Owning a Ferrari is more than owning a car. It’s making a statement, in large part because of how it looks as a yellow blur speeding by you on the freeway.

I think I’m in love

Psychology tells us through its theory of cognitive dissonance that consumers will actively seek reminders they’ve made a good decision in purchasing your product. The affirmation of their choice and their first experience with a product often lead to emotional attachment. This is evident in the way consumers name their gadgets — as if they can’t love a clunky object, but they can grow attached to a personified smartphone or automobile.

Across the board, iconic products are customizable and easy to understand. They give consumers bragging rights. For example, in designing the recently unveiled IKEA TV, IKEA designers thought not just about how you watch TV, but about how you live. And in doing so they designed something unique, a product that makes you believe it was custom-built for you.

With smart experiential marketing, even commoditized products like vacuum cleaners can become objects of desire. Just look at what Dyson has done to the vacuum market – instead of talking about how much dirt they could suck up, the Dyson marketers have focused on industrial design and sustainability, making even a utilitarian object differentiated and desirable to the masses.

It doesn’t end there

Most importantly, the design experience doesn’t end when a consumer purchases your product, or even when they fall in love. Consumers are engaged in a 360-degree feedback cycle. For a company like Nokia, that means choosing the right retail and carrier partners to extend the brand experience through point-of-sale and service, and creating marketing and advertising that hits precisely on consumer pain points and desires.

From start to finish, design matters. Putting the consumer at the center of the design universe — all the way from product inception through the sales, marketing and advertising around a product — encourages a connection to your brand and makes your product stand out from the crowd. In this regard, the consumer electronics industry can and must do more as people demand more than ever that their product marry both form and function. I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to seeing what smartphones and other consumer gadgets look like five years from now.

MobileBeat 2012As president of Nokia Inc. and head of Markets for the Americas Region, Chris Weber is responsible for managing the Markets organization of Nokia’s device and services business across North and South America. Weber will participate in a fireside chat at VentureBeat’s MobileBeat Conference on July 10th and 11th in San Francisco. Register for the event to hear his thoughts on designing a compelling user experience for the North American market.


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