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11.17.2008

Conflicting design standards

Whenever we're designing a course, business model, community or game, we're apt to encounter conflicting design standards. We get put in the position of a traitor, saboteur or whistle blower if we defy the consensual basis for design evaluation. Our conscience or empathy for the customers may tune us out to the accepted criteria. We may identify with emerging changes instead perpetuating the status quo. Here are four typical conflicts that appear in design standards:
  1. In markets where products are getting commoditized and prices charged to the customer are falling, the accepted standards favor cheapening the product. Economies of scale are bringing down the cost to fabricate, deliver and distribute the goods or services. Competition is based on price and cheaper offerings increase sales volume. Design standards become conflicted for employees who care about the actual quality of what is sold, long term impacts of purchases or useful functionality of added features.
  2. In markets where products are getting differentiated by value-added features and benefits, the accepted standards favor enhancements to products, service after the sale, and customer relationships. Sustaining innovations are rewarded with increased revenue and market share. Competition is based on superior options, add-ons and premium package deals. Design standards become conflicted for employees who are wary of feature creep, making products too complicated to benefit from, or overcharging customers for functions they will never use.
  3. In markets where purchases are made for show, higher prices add to the glamour, prestige and perceived value for customers. The accepted deign standards favor overcharging customers, burying hidden charges, and creating the illusion of cost savings with incidental discounts. Competition is based on brand names, visibility, buzz and celebrity endorsements. Design standards become conflicted for employees who value honesty, personal integrity and transparency in their dealings with customers.
  4. In markets where the costs of production, distribution and customer transactions are soaring out of sight, the accepted standards favor cutbacks in service while customers endure price increases. Competition is based on creating captive markets, local monopolies and perishable inventories. Design standards become conflicted for employees who want customers to freely choose what they buy, gain access to other alternatives and define value on their own terms.
These conflicted design standards rarely get resolved within an incumbent enterprise. More often, the conflicts provide the rocket fuel to launch an innovative start-up. The application of the alternative design standards may change the game, disrupt the incumbent and define a new market space. Customers will see the advantage of patronizing the upstarts that adhere to different design standards.

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