In the past decade, there have been thousands upon thousands of scientific and technological advancements, though arguably, the largest single trend within all of these steps forward was the democratization of the tools of production – putting in the hands of amateurs the tools that previously only the professionals could afford.
That simple fact has changed almost every industry on the planet, and has made obsolete a few more. But practically any industry that relied on specialized equipment versus specialized expertise has seen a seismic shift in innovation that caused by providing tools of creation and distribution to the masses.
It’s especially true in the realm of the Web. No, not just anyone with a keyboard and a can of Rockstar can write code, but the huge code repositories and libraries that exist today make it easier than ever to build the next hit game, app, social network or tool. Social networks, viewed by many as the shiny object of the week a mere five years ago, now provide APIs to allow apps to easily integrate a social layer to allow sharing and enhance the user experience.
When everyone has access to the same tools, what’s the competitive advantage?
The answer is design. Yes, this industry is another one that was disrupted by the proliferation of tools like Photoshop and digital cameras, but unlike many other industries, the industry embraced the shift. Kids with Photoshop meant design students with a better eye, digital layouts meant more efficiencies and digital photography meant quality imagery for a fraction of the cost.
Yesterday, Facebook bought Instagram for one billion dollars. The more important point may be that they didn’t buy Hipstamatic – the competitor app that’s pretty much the exact same thing. The big difference? Even though Hipstamatic was first to market, Instagram had a better UI, better design and better social features. In short, the experience was better, so more people used it. Certainly, there were other factors at play, but one could make the case that in this instance, better design was worth $1,000,000,000 – give or take a few million.
It’s nearly impossible to quantify the value of great design. But, in a world where the barrier to entry is so small that the value of an unexecuted idea approaches zero, all that matters is the experience. The look, the brand, the way it works, the way it connects, the way it makes us feel. Yes, your business needs to have a great idea and needs to work, but that’s just the first level. It’s no longer good enough to be good enough – you need to stand apart from the competition.
Design is the differentiator. Returns may vary, but it’s one of the most important investments you’ll make in the success of a business.