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Intentional Design is a Competitive Advantage

Updated: Nov 30, 2023

"Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works,” - Steve Jobs

In our recent blog post, Anything Worth Doing is Worth Designing Well, we float the idea that you should, “stop thinking of great design as a condiment. And think of it more as the cast-iron skillet that takes your steak from a hunk of blah to a sizzling, succulent masterpiece.” This means instead of seeing great design as a nice-to-have, you start viewing design as a foundational element akin to your revenue model or marketing strategy. This may seem like a bold statement but time and time again, we see that the product that is best designed wins out.

Simply put. Businesses that keep design at the center of their brand will more often than not, win out in a crowded marketplace. And intuitively this makes sense. Think about the last service or product you purchased where you were comparing a variety of options. Maybe it was a mediation app or Project Management software. Possibly you were looking for a new time-tracking app or even choosing between multiple Airbnbs. What did you take into consideration?

Screenshot of Airbnb search filter in Austin, TX with over 1,000 homes that fit my specific needs.
My search for 2 nights in Austin, TX in November with my price and requirements.

First, you were probably looking for features and prices. But in a crowded, competitive market, price and features only ever go so far. I can find literally hundreds of hotel rooms and Airbnbs for my next vacation that are within my price range and offer what I need. While I might not have quite as many options when it comes to choosing my project management software, there are still dozens of options available that will *technically* meet my needs.

So what do I do next when it comes to narrowing it down to my final choice? This is where great design comes to bat.

When choosing my Airbnb, the photos and design of the rental are what seal the deal. Beautiful photos allow me to picture myself sitting, reading a book in the sunny and spacious library. A well-crafted description from the host makes me even more excited to explore the neighborhood. And Airbnb knows this. Famously, the founders of Airbnb have talked about their ‘ah ha’ moment of visiting hosts and offering professional photography services because hosts were posting pictures of their spaces in bad light with their iPhone4s.

And it’s not just the photos of the individual Airbnb rentals that help seal the deal, it’s the intentional design of the Airbnb itself that has users coming back to them regularly even as new competitors hit the market.

[Airbnb] is estimated to have over 20% of the market share of the entire vacation rental industry. - Lodgify

Take a look at the leaders in most industries, and what you’ll find is that a common thread throughout is they make design a core feature of their business.

Airbnb, Apple, Nike, Salesforce, Figma, Tesla, Coke, Warby Parker, Asana, Notion.

For these businesses design is baked into their core differentiators. It’s a have-to-have, not a nice-to-have.

And beautiful, impactful design isn’t just for the biggest companies in the world. It’s something that small businesses need to be thinking about as they are scaling.

In Adobe’s 2016 State of Create report, “46% of people responded, ‘I will not purchase from a brand if its website or mobile experience is poorly designed’.”

As tools like Canva, website builders, iPhones, and Instagram have made beautiful design more ubiquitous, customers and clients have become more sensitive to bad design. We are beyond the days of ugly websites being standard and poor graphics being the norm. Businesses of all shapes and sizes are being held to higher standards. As designers, we love this. As a small business owner, I recognize how challenging that can be.

So start small. Start simple. And start thinking about how beautiful design can be a value add rather than an expensive afterthought.


Interested in chatting about design, branding, or even just cool shit?


Profile picture of Olivia Wisden, author of this blog post as well as the CEO/Founder of UnderBelly Creative.

About The Author

Olivia Wisden is the Founder + CEO of TwoLips Creative. She has worked with dozens of brands over the years ranging from city initiatives to product launches and beyond. When she’s not fan-girling over the design team’s illustrations she can probably be found reading a novel or attending a boxing class.


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