KBB Collective | The Designers' Corner

Jul 02 2013

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Succeeding in the Age of Co-creation

Concept of Hand with Electronic Fingerprints

Can you remember a time when hand-drawn renderings ruled the day? Before social media − before YouTube, Facebook and Pinterest?

When you think about it, it wasn’t that long ago. It seems sometimes as though the world suddenly changed at midnight, as noted British author and educator, Eddie Obeng describes: “We have moved as a world, from an age when we could learn faster than our local environments change to one where the local environment of individuals, organizations and governments changes faster than we can learn.”

As a result of this shift, most of the concepts, best practices and assumptions we commonly used to plan, manage, lead, organize and govern are obsolete and even damaging to the lives of individuals, society and organizations.

That begs these questions: Are the practices and tools used to manage, lead and organize in the kitchen and bath industry obsolete? Further, are they potentially damaging to kitchen and bath professionals or to their relationships with their clients? Are they limiting what’s possible in terms of creativity and efficiency in the kitchen and bath industry?

These are big questions many of us are working hard to answer.

What are some of the biggest changes that have happened since midnight? Social connectedness, the availability of a staggering amount of information – instantly − and the ability and desire for the average person to create and design are perhaps the changes that are shaping our lives most profoundly.

Not long ago, the professional designer and dealer was usually the primary source of inspiration ideas (along with magazines and friends’ homes). Consumers relied on the help of a design professional for inspiration, to help create a vision and design the project, as well as knowing the technical specifications of the project and ultimately getting the project done. Now many homeowners can create much of that vision, and often they have very specific ideas of what their project should look like. So now the homeowner isn’t a client who is completely dependent on the designer; the homeowner is a collaborator, a co-creator. Homeowners can come up with ideas on designs by using simple digital design tools and apps such as Home Design 3D by LiveCad and Room Planner by Chief Architect. Houzz.com is an incredible resource, which has 700,000 high-resolution photos on its site.

Smart companies over the past few years have changed their view of the consumer and are now viewing them as co-creators of their products or services. One example is Nike, which through NIKEiD allows the consumer to design a shoe by selecting colors from its website. A lesser-known but maybe more interesting application of this concept is shoesofprey.com, which allows women to design shoes to their taste and receive them in around four weeks anywhere in the world. A pair of size nine pumps with pink soles? No problem, you’re just a few clicks away.

Extreme personalization for some products in the kitchen and bath industry has been the norm for years, and perhaps the best example is custom cabinetry. For other products, such as faucets, fixtures and other durables, this level of extreme personalization is difficult to pull off, considering lengthy design and production cycles as well as manufacturing often being overseas. But these companies can look for new ways to get faster feedback from consumers and designers on their designs, to speed the product development process. They can also use technology to personalize the product selection and buying process to ensure an extremely good fit of the product for the type of project and look desired.

But new ways to manufacture some products may change the game. Perhaps one of the most interesting design tools is in the arena of manufacturing. Three-dimensional printing allows products to be designed on a computer and “printed” on a 3D printer, which creates a solid object by building up successive layers of material. Eventually these amazing machines may be able to make almost anything, anywhere. There are already versions made for home use.

The expectations of what the customer experience should be are changing. People’s lifestyles are now dependent on technology. Apple is now the most valuable company in the world, and its new IPad Mini is merely the latest iteration of handheld tools to help people stay connected and do what they want to do in the digital world.

You have the ability to create a unique client experience through collaboration and through theatre, engagement and entertainment. You simply need to know how to employ these technologies that are at your fingertips.

The keys to winning in this new age

Things are moving at incredibly rapid pace; it’s a challenging to keep up, and it can be a little scary. What’s the next big thing? What does it mean to me? What does it mean to my client and his/her lifestyle?

Well, the first thing to do is to make sure you have the right attitude, which really boils down to this: We must embrace uncertainty and embrace insecurity. These are exciting times! Look at this time as an opportunity to transform the value you provide to your clients. Be the person who makes your client aware of new technologies. Be the person who entertains your client in the process of collaborating with them to design and bring their project to life. That doesn’t need to mean dressing up like a clown or putting on a dance recital. It simply means making the customer experience as dynamic and as relevant as you can. There is no perfect formula anymore.

Customer experience is still at the heart of what differentiates you and your company, of what gives you competitive advantage. It is becoming much more difficult to compete in a sustainable way on quality, price, etc. If you are willing to embrace the collaborative relationship among kitchen and bath dealers, designers, manufacturers, sales professionals and consumers you can − and you will − win in the new age of co-creation.

– Mark Abbas is a director at InReality, a customer experience strategy and design company based in Atlanta. He is a former senior director of branding at TOTO USA; vice president, retail & hospitality for Interface; and executive with several marketing communications agencies positions that have given him unique perspectives on customer experience in the built environment and the kitchen and bath industry.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013 at 9:45 AM and is filed under Business, Marketing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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