J. Margus Klaar: “When people talk about design, they only focus on its one aspect: aesthetics”

A founding partner of Brand Manual and a design mentor at the European Innovation Academy, talks about different aspects of design and explains what is needed for successful realization of design models in Ukraine.

What economic and social benefits can design bring to Ukraine?

There are four aspects to design. That is, well designed products and services are:

• usable

• understandable

• distinctive

• aesthetic

This applies to everything from city planning to websites to transport networks. Unfortunately, when people talk about design, they only focus on the last point: aesthetics. That is, they see pretty things.

However, as form follows function, services and products that meet the criteria of usable, understandable and distinctive tend to be, by default, also aesthetically pleasing. Iconic products that have been in production decades, or even centuries meet all of these criteria without any problems. A glass to drink from. The Swiss Army Knife. The Qwerty keyboard.

All of the above have one thing in common, that they were designed with the user in mind. Solving a problem and meeting a human need.

Most government services everywhere, and a lot of business services everywhere, are not designed to solve a human (customer or citizen) problem. But rather they are designed to optimise an internal process - make it cheaper or faster for the people in the organisation, rather than easier and faster for the user.

It is obvious what economic and social benefits society would reap, if all government and business services were usable, understandable and distinctive: Incredible savings and happier people.

What design models can work and be successful in Ukrainian realities? And how we can implement them?

Implementing strategic design in public organisation and private companies requires the realisation, that the optimisation of processes only perfects the formula that goes out of date. This means, that management must come to the understanding, that the customer experience is actually the only competitive advantage that needs to be improved, as the physical quality between products and services has become, or is becoming, negligible.

There is not much difference in the quality of cars, computers, phones or cola drinks. However, the difference in the customer experience can be profound, if you are willing to invest into understanding customer’s lives, and how your product or service fits into it.

The most important aspect of design led strategy, is to understand the customer’s journey from need to satisfaction, and not just the moment of transaction. That is, the need for milk starts when you’ve made coffee and realised there is no milk in the fridge. And your journey ends only once you have your coffee with milk. The moment of transaction in the store, physically picking up the milk and paying for it is just a fraction of the whole customer journey.

To implement a user or customer centric approach to product or service development requires the application of service design processes to development. This in-turn, requires organisations to let go of their cascade or waterfall development methods in favour of an iterative and explorative approach, where the goal is not initially to develop a solution, but rather to understand the problem from the customers’ / users’ points-of-view.

Can you give us 3 successful examples of design/design thinking projects?

In 2015, Designit helped redesign the process for breast cancer screening at Breast Cancer Diagnostic Centre at Oslo University Hospital, reducing the time from first contact to diagnosis from 12 weeks to 7 days. That is a 90% reduction in waiting time, simply by making the diagnosis patient centric, instead of process centric.

In 1931 Harry Beck introduced the schematic transport map for the Underground of London. It didn’t show the geographic locations but rather the relative positions of the stations, lines, the stations' connective relations, and fare zones. It was based on the simple insight, that it wasn’t important for people to know exactly how the tunnels are spaced throughout London, but rather they needed to know where the stations are in relation to each other. This approach has been copied worldwide.

Apollo used to be just a bookstore. Videoplanet rented films. Filmipood (literally “movie store”) sold movie DVDs and music CDs. All three were conventional brick-and-mortar stores. Over the course of a few years, Apollo reimagined the way people could consume content and spend their free time. The above outlets were combined under the Apollo banner unifying different entertainment and content brands into a single experience under one roof. Apollo not only reinvented the bookstore, but also entered and completely changed the cinema market in Estonia, with far-reaching changes in how new services are developed and launched. As a result of this process Apollo has seen a 200% increase in registered customers and a 300% increase in interaction frequency.

All three cases, though very different were successful because for the customer/user/patient, the result was:

• usable

• understandable

• distinctive

• aesthetic 


J. Margus Klaar is a Swiss-Swedish-Canadian-Estonian currently living in Stockholm, Sweden. He’s a founding partner of Brand Manual and has over 25 years experience in strategic marketing, design and communication. He is responsible for the continuous development of service design processes and tools that Brand Manual applies to client projects and is a frequent speaker at business and service design conferences. 

He has published numerous articles on service design and branding and is the author of “How to have your cake and eat it too – an introduction to service design.” He is the catalyst behind the Service Design Network’s global Service Design Award and guest lecturer at various marketing and business schools as well as design mentor at the European Innovation Academy. 

Other interesting stories: