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1. Design is the Differentiator

Ford design chief J Mays believes that only a distinctive look and feel will give customers a compelling reason to buy what is essentially a commodity. Ford has put design at the forefront of its competitive strategy—and it's betting big that Mays has a winning blueprint for future growth.

2. Those Who Write the Rules, Rule

All-star architect William McDonough dared to break with the past and create a new road map for manufacturing environmentally sustainable products. In doing so, he's getting the likes of Herman Miller and Berkshire Hathaway's Shaw Industries to play by his rules.

3. Confront the Unfamiliar

BMW Group DesignworksUSA president Adrian van Hooydonk frequently asks his car designers to work on products (from Nokia cell phones to John Deere tractors) and his product designers to contribute to cars (BMWs, to be precise). The constant round of fresh, unfamiliar challenges inspires maximum creativity from everyone— exactly what van Hooydonk is looking for.

4. Make It Real

Target had the foresight to bring high- concept design to the masses. But it was up to the company's former trend-spotter, Robyn Waters, to help translate Target's inspiration into real products that relate to its customers.

5. Get Emotional

Truly innovative products speak to their users' emotions, counsels Yves Behar, who designs for Nike and Toshiba, among many others. When you make an emotional connection with your customers, you win their loyalty.

Peak Performers: Four masters who are leading the world of design
Impact Players: Four high-impact projects that shaped the year in design—and the people who launched them
  • William McDonough, Principal and founder, William McDonough + Partners
  • Tom Ford , Former Creative Director, Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent
  • Jonathan Ive, Vice President of Industrial Design, Apple Computer Inc.
  • Marcia Lausen, Founding member, AIGA Design for Democracy
Game Changers: The risk takers and agitators who are rewriting the rules
Collaborators: Champions who help make great design happen
Next Generation: Meet four rising stars who are charting the future
A Jury of Their Peers
Introducing 11 jurors—top leaders from universities, cultural institutions, and business—who helped us select our 20 Masters of Design.
Lessons From the Masters
These five ideas will help you incorporate design principles in your work — and better connect with customers and colleagues.

A version of this article appeared in the June 2004 issue of Fast Company magazine.