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Change-Agent Designs: They Inspire You to Do the Right Thing


While designs are often the result of great inspiration, I'm even more interested in designs that themselves inspire. I'm a great believer in design's power to effect positive change in the world. Understandably, the first job at hand is often to create a positive effect on a company's bottom line. But it's absolutely possible to make money and make a difference.

method-cleaner Take Method cleaning products. This incredibly fresh and innovative company saw a terrific opportunity to make cleaning products that were better for people and better for the environment. But founders Eric Ryan and Adam Lowry were smart enough to know that a strictly environmental pitch would only get them so far. Yes, we know we're supposed to care about the environment. We're supposed to do the right thing. But why does it always have to feel like we have to deprive ourselves when we do? Well, it doesn't.

Ryan and Lowry use design as a motivator to inspire people to do the right thing. When you have the choice of a toxic product in an ugly bottle that you have to keep under the sink behind a child-proofed door, and a safe, great smelling, environmentally-sound product in a bottle so beautiful you want to display it on the counter, well, you go beyond making sales, you make legions of fans. Method fans can even join the People Against Dirty™ online community to spread the word and share the joy of clean. By making their products desirable, Method has transformed cleaning from a chore into something consumers can enjoy and take pride in.

On the far other end of the spectrum is Tesla Motor Cars. To be sure, with a starting price of $128,500, the Tesla Roadster Sport isn't going to be on every driveway in your neighborhood. But its stunning looks will send your heart racing even before you climb in the driver's seat. And at 0 to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds, the Tesla proves you won't have to compromise on performance to get zero emissions. Zero. This über green car is as aspirational as it is inspirational. The Model S Sedan (set to go into production in 2011), will come in at closer to $50,000. It will look and feel like a luxurious indulgence, but when you factor in the cost differences between gas and electricity, Tesla Motors estimates the cost of ownership would make the Model S comparable to a gas-powered car with a sticker-price of $35,000. A luxury experience that's good for the environment and cost-smart? Now that's inspirational.

So even though Method and Tesla couldn't be more different in many ways, they both do a wonderful job of using design to inspire people to do the right thing while deeply connecting their consumers to their brands by making them feel like they're treating themselves in the process.

Read more of Ravi Sawhney's Design Reach blog

Ravi Sawhney is the founder and CEO of RKS, a global leader in strategy, innovation, and design.

Since founding RKS nearly 30 years ago, Sawhney has earned a variety of top honors in the design industry, and assembled a client list that includes HP, Intel, LG, Medtronic, Seiko, Sprint, and Zyliss, among many others. In the process, RKS has helped generate more than 150 patents on behalf of their clients.

In 2004 Sawhney was named chairperson of the Industrial Design Excellence Award program, where he created the IDSA/BusinessWeek Catalyst award for products that generate measurable business results. Most recently, he was named Executive Director of Catalyst to direct its evolution into a program to develop case studies illustrating design's power to effect positive change.

Sawhney also invented the popular Psycho-Aesthetics® design strategy, which Harvard adopted as a Business School Case Study. He is a regularly featured lecturer at Harvard Business School, USC's Marshall School of Business, and UCLA's Anderson School of Business, where he teaches this business-driven design tool.

In addition to RKS, Sawhney has played an integral part in the founding of several other businesses, including Intrigo, an innovative computer accessory company; On2 Better Health, a health products company; and RKS Guitars, best known for its reinvention of the electric guitar.