The terminal was deemed an experience design project that has redefined the typical airport experience for travellers. The kerbless entrances let travellers manoeuvre their luggage easily into the terminal, where scores of self-service check-in kiosks help reduce queueing. Even security screening is made less tedious with pleasant videos played on a 70m-wide LED screen that overlooks the area. Indeed, airports are no longer mere transit checkpoints but lifestyle destinations. “Thinking about what customers need and creating moments of interest — that comes from the design lens,” says Wee.
The way he sees it, design is also a strategic tool that businesses should use to create a strong competitive advantage. In the well-known case of Apple, the company has not only created aesthetically pleasing products but its obsessive attention to detail and intuitive interface draws users into an ecosystem. When Apple has a new product or service, customers are happy to stay and pay. “People now don’t know how to classify Apple. Are they a product company, a music company or an entertainment company? That’s when you can see the very strategic impact of design,” says Wee.
There has been significant scepticism about the impact of design on business. “People were thinking, what is this nonsense?” recalls Wee with a laugh. But last year, the industry enjoyed newfound credibility. In a five-year study, management consultancy McKinsey collected more than two million pieces of financial data and 100,000 design-related actions made by 300 public- listed companies. The results were then distilled into the McKinsey Design Index (MDI) and these 300 companies were put through a regression analysis. The results indicated a strong correlation between design and financial performance.
For one, companies in the top quartile of the MDI scores were able to increase their revenues and total returns to shareholders relative to their industry counterparts. Over a five-year period, these companies managed revenue growth that was 32 percentage points higher and TRS that were 56 percentage points higher than the industry as a whole.
While many would agree that design is an important element in industries that are consumer-facing, the McKinsey study indicates that even when applied in a broader selection of industries, including medical technology and banking, design does help businesses perform better. “Good design matters, whether your company focuses on physical goods, digital products, services or some combination of these,” McKinsey says.
In addition, TRS and revenue differences between companies in the second, third and fourth quartiles were “marginal”. “In other words, the market disproportionately rewarded companies that truly stood out from the crowd, says McKinsey. “We have quantifiable evidence that design will yield financial results,” says Wee, referring to the McKinsey study. “Please tell your readers that.”