Welcome to the Design Democracy

This is the age of design. With a lowercase d.

And whether you realize it or not, you and your business are judged every day by how well you take advantage of that fact.

Design comes in many forms. Aesthetically, we officially moved into the design age in 2004 when the US State Department announced in an internal memo that it was changing the font it had been using for as long as anyone could remember - Courier New 12 - for another because it took up less space on the page and appeared cleaner and more contemporary. The choice was Times New Roman 14.

This piece of history - taken from Dan Pink’s compelling book A Whole New Mind - is remarkable not because the change happened. But because, as he points out, everyone understood what the memo was talking about. Access to technology and software had suddenly given us control over design decisions that used to be exclusively the purview of professionals.

Five years on, the digital age has exponentially increased our capacity to design our worlds so they reflect us as individuals.

This blog is our design. Good or bad. And now you get to judge us not only by the words, but the way we present them. We’re no longer restricted to a designer’s interpretation of us, so what you see now is how we see ourselves. The risk is you won't like it. The reward is that if you do, we’ll be more directly connected. You probably didn’t think all that through when you came to this site today. But it was happening, nonetheless. And if you read this blog before Saturday, you probably also passed some kind of judgement on the fact we changed the aesthetic over the weekend. That, by the way took us 30 minutes. Design with a lowercase d.

The flip side of this equation is that we get to hold you to a higher standard too. As Seth Godin pointed out in his blog this morning, there’s just no excuse any more for bad design. And as a culture we’re increasingly less willing to accept one. Excuse or bad design.

Like it or not your business is being held to that standard as well. Not just in the way it presents itself aesthetically, but in how it works. Which is the other aspect of design that’s now in the public domain.

Nike ID gives us the ability to design our own running shoes. And in the instant that we do, we become Nike designers. To do this, Nike has to open up their IP to the possibility - probability - that I will design something that they would prefer never be seen attached to their swoosh. Risk. But because they trusted me with their brand, I feel responsible for it and loyal in a way that no marketing initiative ever could create. Reward.

TJMaxx changes its clothing every two weeks based on customer feedback. The best websites let me decide which information is important and where I want it to appear. I can design my own computer , phone  and house. I decide what I watch - and when. And I feel pretty certain that I was involved in designing our new government. In fact, I just got an email from Barack last week.

Based on all that, do you think I’m likely to settle for being told that I get no say in how I use your business?

The challenge is to design a model that lets every customer contribute part of themselves to the experience of working with your company.

Unless customer loyalty and innovation isn’t important to you. In which case cut your prices and carry on.