Steve Jobs once said Apple’s iPod’s design is “not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”
Great design is something of which most of us don’t give much thought. Products with great design just work; they look great, feel great, and they make us feel better about actually owning them.
Borrowing from that famous Jobs’ quote and building on the theory, Jay Greene (the former Seattle bureau chief at BusinessWeek) has written, "Design Is How It Works: How the Smartest Companies Turn Products into Icons."
In it he takes a look at eight iconic brands – including Lego, Porsche and Apple – and explains how they’ve created useful, meaningful, life and industry changing products.
With each case study Greene lays out how these companies have used great designs to build lasting customer loyalty who help push them – and keep them – ahead of the competition.
In this Guest Author Blog, he explains how Porsche has used design to build a legacy.
Guest Author Blog: "Design Is How It Works" by Jay Greene.
It’s late January and there’s a slight dusting of snow on the fields surrounding Porsche’s test track in Leipzig, Germany.
I’m behind the steering wheel of a Porsche 911 Carrera S, a souped-up version of an already souped-up car that would cost about $100,000 at a United States dealership. The 385-horsepower engine can push this little dynamo from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 4.3 seconds.
Sitting next to me is Guido Majewski, an eleven-year racing veteran who now works full-time teaching race driving. He works here to give Porsche customers and would-be customers the opportunity to do things they’d never do on the street. Like trying to go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 4.3 seconds.
The track covers 2.3 miles and is built with ten different corners, curves, and chicanes that replicate some of the most famous twists in auto racing. I zip over the Laguna Seca Corkscrew, an undulating right-left-right combination taken from a track in Monterey, California, that drops me onto a long straightaway where I push the Carrera north of 80 miles per hour before hitting the brakes to manage the deceptively tricky Mobil 1 S turn from Nürburgring, the legendary track just a few hours south of Leipzig.
Majewski is telling me to brake earlier so I can carry just the right amount of speed into the first right turn before hitting the gas to achieve maximum speed out of the left turn that’s approaching. Instead, I’m braking in the corner, which means the car needs much more pop coming out. It’s not efficient and it cuts my speed.
After eight laps, I get out of the car. My hands are shaking a bit and I feel woozy, like I rode a roller coaster just a bit too long. Even though it’s 35 degrees on this gray morning, I’m dripping with sweat. Then Majewski, a gracious and patient man with graying hair and a firm handshake, takes me for a spin, driving the track the way it’s supposed to be driven.
Turns out my trip over the Corkscrew is like a drive to the mall compared to the line and speed taken by Majewski. And as he approaches the Mobil 1 S, he slams the brakes before the right turn, starts twisting the steering wheel to the right so that the rear of the car drifts out ever so slightly to the left, putting him in perfect position to pull the same maneuver in the opposite direction on the left turn.
In an instant, we’re approaching 100 miles per hour again. I comment that most Carrera owners have never done that and wouldn’t even know how.
“It’s a pity,” Majewski says.
Maybe, I think. But for Porsche, the point of the 911, the highest-performance car among its production stable, is that it can do all that a driver like Majewski asks of it, even if most drivers will never push their cars nearly that hard.
Porsche cars are designed for driving, not merely looking good in the driveway.
Its cars are gorgeous, no doubt. But for Porsche, design is also about authenticity. That’s an overused word in the corner offices of most corporate headquarters. But in Porsche’s case, it’s a word that had resonance in the earliest days of the company. When founderFerry Porsche was asked about the design of the company’s very first car, the 356, he said, “In the beginning, I looked around but couldn’t find the car I dreamt of, so I decided to build it myself.”
The son of a car designer—his father Ferdinand created the original Volkswagen Beetleat the request of Adolf Hitler—Porsche infused his company with a passion for creating dream-worthy vehicles that continues to this day. It’s the reason J.D. Power and Associates ranked Porsche in 2008 not just the top automaker in quality but also in delighting customers with design and performance.
Porsche understands that customers are willing to shell out money for goods that engage them, goods to which they have personal connections.
The way a company such as Porsche creates those products is by developing cars that its designers crave. No cutting corners. Nothing inauthentic that risks the company’s credibility. From that first 356, Porsche’s strategy has been to create cars that its designers wish they could own.
That’s one reason Porsches have evolved from modes of transportation to mythic symbols.
Its fans don’t just drive the cars; they collect them. The company believes that roughly 70 percent of all Porsches built since the original 356 are still on the road today.
With that lust come the scores of Porsche coffee table books stuffed with glossy photos of its race cars, its 356s, and its 911s. Porsche clubs circle the globe, from the United States to Germany to New Zealand to Lebanon.
Porsche has used design to create a cult.
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Jay Greene, the former Seattle bureau chief for BusinessWeek, has written about technology for more than two decades.
He has also written for The Seattle Times, The Orange Country Register, The Cleveland Plain Dealer and Variety.
He lives in Seattle with his wife and two sons.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org — And follow me on Twitter