Design Is Today’s Differentiator

By Peter Cronin | Friday, February 7, 2020 | No Comments

“Good design is good business.” This quote from former IBM president Thomas Watson Jr. was delivered at the University of Pennsylvania in 1973. Back then, the idea that design was integral to the future of commerce was a new and somewhat revolutionary notion, but Watson Jr. knew from experience the power that design can have on a company’s bottom line.

Strolling down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan one afternoon in the early 1950s, the young executive happened upon a shop window that stopped him in his tracks. He walked into a showroom display of Olivetti typewriters, sleekly designed, brightly colored and visually arresting.

Thinking about the bland looking machines showcased in IBM’s drab, dimly lit showroom, Watson Jr. experienced a moment of revelation that led him to become one of the biggest corporate proponents of visual art and the power of great design to change the course of business.

Watson Jr. went right to work, bringing noted designer and MOMA curator Eliot Noyes on board to transform the look, feel and sensibility of IBM and their products. Noyes brought in noted designers including Charles and Ray Eames, Eero Saarinen, Paul Rand and Isamu Noguchi. Their work with IBM set a standard that would change the game and inspire future giants of innovation including Steve Jobs.

Like many visionaries, Watson, Jr. was ahead of his time. But time has finally caught up to his expansive vision. Today’s marketing space is so cluttered with competing messages that design has become more than just a differentiator. It is now the differentiator, raising the stakes for graphic designers and their clients. Graphic design and graphic designers have never been more central to a successful marketing plan.

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