Predictable Magic: unleash the power of design strategy to transform your business, was highly recommended to me as an addition to a new and fast-growing list of books that address “design thinking strategies” in business. Co-author Deepa Prahalad, a former commodities trader with Cargill, who holds a MBA from Tuck School of Business, Dartmouth collaborated with Ravi Sawhney, industrial designer and CEO of the global firm RKS Design, which he founded in 1980. The book covers in great detail Sawhney’s many-layered Psycho-Aesthetics framework, the subject of a Harvard Business School case study, that is both a process and toolkit for assessing emotional connections between customers and industry designs.
I found myself of two minds reading this book. As a longtime arts educator and a former museum administrator, I was curious to learn about this approach to strategy that is catching fire these days and its applicability of design principles to business strategy. However, I kept encountering the same language used in museum literature particularly visitor studies, such as assigning value for meaningful, transforming experiences. One reason is the crossover of disciplines and the use of similar methods such as behavioral psychology, which also is used to assess museum visitor experiences (not unlike market research methods). Where the lines really begin to blur is the deployment of anthropological field methods and cognitive anthropology theory to the consumer in way of meaning-making, transformation and self-actualization. If it sounds like Maslow’s Hierarchy, it is—literally. A pyramid charts consumer desire of increasing self-expression and empowerment. The intrinsic needs of the consumer are met by providing an experience driven by entertainment and resulting in self-actualization (well being). The higher the consumer’s level of purchase involves a matching level of empowerment and well-being. The Psycho-Aesthetics framework is all about the evolved consumer-critic, who is no longer satisfied with just good design—design now has to align with the consumer experience, which encompasses not only affect, but also anticipates the consumer’s aspirations and ultimately, transformation. Not all consumers are alike: the framework divides consumers into four categories (quadrants) paired with tools for mapping persona analyses that combine with traditional data sources such as demographics, market research and ethnography. The quadrant levels range from basic to enriched, with versatile and the artistic falling in-between. Basic level in design is considered functional, while the enriched level represents the ultimate design (marked by the symbol of the Ferrari) as a design that engages the consumer at much more deeper sensual and emotional levels. At the enriched, or pinnacle level, consumers become mythological Journey Heroes who will then become eager to share experiences with others. Consider two examples with their corresponding emotional content: when women selected the newly-designed Amana washing machine, it was an indicator that women were made to feel “like better nurturers and caretakers for their families.” (p. 94) When DJs selected newly designed speakers, however, it was because of its superior design. Could improved washing machine design make the husband a more nurturing caretaker when doing the family laundry? Or could women appreciate design simply for design’s sake? Either way, the determining criteria was unclear. I think Predictable Magic goes in an interesting direction. While museums are reluctant to consider affect in visitor studies, it is interesting how it is quickly becoming seen as integral to consumer behavior and the way in which it affects the bottom line and ultimately sustainability over the long haul. Perhaps a whole new market is foreshadowed here: that consumers are hungry for art that it not just relegated to special occasions and faraway exotic places that one visits once or twice a year, but as a part of everyday life.