Why does "good" design cost more money?

Here’s something I’ve been thinking of lately. It applies generally to most product categories (cars, consumer products, etc.).

“Why does seem that good design costs more?”

Most aspects of what could be categorized as good design are not innately more expensive.

  1. Generally, it costs the same to make a mold for an ugly product as a nice looking one.

  2. Good design can in many cases SAVE costs by smart assembly methods, innovative uses of materials, simplification of parts, etc.

I know of course, there are lots of examples of inexpensive design that is good (ie. Ikea, Target, etc.). Still, in most product categories the cheaper the product, the more aesthetically and functionally flawed it is.

Setting aside the very top (ie. bespoke, exotic materials, one-offs and custom solutions) and the very bottom (ie. basic items or discount knock-off crap), there still seems to be a large difference in the gap w.r.t. price/design. I do think the gap is closing, but just wondering about the background reasons for it.

As an example- cars.

Surely it would be pretty easy to take a low/mid cost car (ie. honda civic, basic GM Whatever) mechanicals and do a body style/interior that has the resolved design cues and aesthetic beauty of a BMW. Sure, some parts would need to be subbed for different materials, simplified, etc. but just talking sheet metal, the cost of a nice style vs. boring in terms of tooling cant be much different. Add to it that there are tons of trans designers with awsome concepts in their portfolios, and boom.


is this a question of consumer expectations driving design?

is this a function of longer lead times and testing for refinement vs. time to market and revenue?

am i just wrong?


What about the laws of supply and demand? Since the supply of well-designed products is lower than demand, this drives prices up. If every product were well-designed, the pricing would be based only on other factors. In other words, the value-added by design is recovered in higher margins.

Another factor might be perception, even by designers. I drive a Ford Focus. It has alot of little weird under-designed bits, but overall, I think it looks goods, is extremely user-friendly and is unique (I value uniqueness). However, I can see the eyes of most people when I tell them I’m a car nut with a Focus. It’s as big an oxymoron as if I were to say I was an under-paid government employee.

Personally, I find BMWs to be kinda boring. They perfected a look 30 years ago and have refused to move on. In some ways it’s admirable, but with the incredible possibilities in good transport design, why sit on one’s thumbs?

Of course, this does all come back to consumer preferance. I can think of two hideous design decisions forced upon vehicle designs after focus groups: Subaru Impreza and the tail lights of the Maseratti coupe. The Maseratti really gets me. They had a beautiful design in Europe…but then they focused grouped in the US. Apparently the ignorant Americans prefered a couple of Escalade tail lamps taped to the rear of the coupe over the refined euro-design. Argh!

In other industries, I think it is a lack of design acceptance. There are so many companies that are still either ignoring design, or just bringing it in to do styling. We need to keep banging on doors and getting our message out as an industry!

I just read an article about that within in past few days or so but I can’t remember where it was from. What it basically boiled down to was that the wealthy needed a reason to pay more for the luxury item, so the “cheaper” stuff is made less desirable so that the people that can afford to pay extra will to satisfy the egotistical / taste needs of not belonging to that “lower” class that has to get the ugly stuff.
It mentioned things like airlines also. That they could easily give more space for everyone without substantial cost, but there has to be an apparent difference between sections for the wealthy to pay the extra amount that they can for the luxury. I’m going to find the article that explains it, be right back.

Couldn’t find it. But of course there are the other issues of the more expensive items sometimes using better quality (expensive) materials, etc. But for a lot of the “lifestyle” luxury products, it’s just a matter of separating the person who “can” buy it with those that can’t.

I also think that it comes down to designers to some extent. When designing for the good/better/best scenario, preference and time seems to be given to the “best” category as the highlight of the line. The “cheaper” versions then get looser constraints or are purposefully made inferior to help upsell the customer to the better category.

Good design is not more expensive, and with autos to save a few pence off the shelf solutins are used. When it comes right down to it “good” design is a matter of opinion and taste. With mass market mass productoin goods you playing to the thundering herd, so you cannot go too far out in either field and have a commerical success. If your playing to a “unique” market, then if you have a “name” then all is golden, after all a lot of gucci stuff is just plain bad, heck there have been fugly ferrari’s for that matter.

What about the laws of supply and demand

I think Mr914 is in the right direction -it’s often the perceived VALUE of a product that makes it more expensive than another.

Retail prices used to be calculated using ‘cost plus’; production x 2= wholesale x 2 = retail price. But the value of brand names changed that paradigm where people were willing to pay a lot more for a known brand. Now it’s changed once again; a lot of no-names have entered the scene with ‘cool’ (or well designed) products and are being able to get placement at retail.

So retail price is as high as the Marketing guys are comfortable with, and it’s no longer a direct descendant of production cost. Essentially, products that offer a unique offering don’t have to duke it out on price with the competitors and can make more profit per product.

The supply-and-demand scale has now tipped in our favor -more companies than ever now recognize that industrial designers can increase their profit margins by creating these unique products. (for ‘unique’ read innovative useful features and/or just plain good looks / aka ‘good design’)

The cheap ones often are knock-offs with little development cost and minimal or no marketing and sales expense, riding on others’ efforts. Of course the process of creating those knock-offs is rather cavalier, resulting in poor quality. Hence the conundrum you describe of good design expensive vs. bad ‘design’ cheap.

good points Paul

and then there is the private label stuff which is becoming more and more competitive with name brands as retailers are becoming more aware of the power of design and differentiation resulting it product lines that are no longer just generic value lines, but well designed differentiated or atleast feature matching products, so the store undercuts the big name brands and makes a huge margin. They could price these products much much cheaper (about 50%) but would rather offer a better value than the name brands at this higher profit level. It is a complicated and delicate balancing act though.

I believe that the answer is because people are willing to pay more for good design and the market tends to try to charge as much as the market will accept.

With a few exceptions of course, like everything at IKEA. But in most of these cases they are not charging the maximum because they have a position that strikes a different balance between Design, Durability, Price and Consumer Satisfaction.

You mean it costs more to produce, or for the clients to buy?

No design or bad design is more expensive than good design. Sales and ROI will be higher with a well designed product (shouldn’t we call it RODI?).

On the other hand, for the consumers, it is a matter of segmentation. But it is also a wrong idea that cheaper products should have less or no design… think about the Mac Mini and the iPod Shuffle as examples.

I think a lot boils down to supply and demand. Lets go with an injection molded product. A designerly injection molded product might not appeal to many people (or many store buyers lets say), so the amortization of the tooling has to be done over much fewer pairs, making the supply low, which matches the relatively low demand, now take into account that the number of people that love great design enough to search all over the web for it, ship it from wherever, and wait to get it is very small, and this group of people values having they choose over things thrust upon them so much, that they are willing to pay a premium… so even though the demand is low in terms of the percentage of potential buyer, the demand among percentage of actual buyers is high = high prices on both the front and back ends.

Low demand from mass market = low supply / high demand from niche market X (High cost to produce + high mark up) = oddly high price… my thoughts on it

Very good, “great design” is in the eye of the beholder, monster trucks anybody?

OOPS, I wrote “Pairs”… too tied up in shoes (that would be a bow knot)

good discussion going.

Yo, I’m sure if i agree with where you take this, though.

If anything, i’d argue the higher volumes in lower-cost product make amortization of more expensive tooling possible as the per part amortization cost is reduced. If you were doing a high-volume product, you could therefore have a part of higher complexity of tooling or fixed costs as these would be spread across more volume.

as well, im not so sure “designery” should/does equate with lower mass appeal. im not talking about the super high end, bordering on art stuff, but just good, basic design in my premise. a well designed product can (hopefully) better serve the needs of the user, and therefore appeal to more people.

the issue of price vs. perception and branding is an interesting side note as mentioned, however.

at the heart of it though, i still dont really see an answer to my initial question. lemme rephrase-

if design costs (ie. staff designers, etc.) are small relative to tooling, marketing, and other fixed overhead costs and design can effectively save money (smarter tooling, etc.) and increase sales advantage (ie. USPs, product differentiation), why is “good” design not more evident on lower priced products compared to higher end products.

if anything, based on the above, you’d expect to see design play more of a role in the lower end compared to the higher end of things, where brand, marketing, materials, technology and other factors add more to the overall price and perceived value.

given that good design is relatively “free” (ie. doesnt need to add to the part cost, unlike materials, etc.) you could make the conjecture that percentage wise, design is more a part of lower end products than higher end products, yet it doesnt look like that on the market.


It could be that everybody thinks they are a designer, and to a extent they are so at the “lower end” its just a case where its said by the people conrolling the money to"do x/y/z but in …color…swoops…materials and at x/y/z price".

It could be that everybody thinks they are a designer, and to a extent they are so at the “lower end” its just a case where its said by the people conrolling the money to"do x/y/z but in …color…swoops…materials and at x/y/z price".

A lot of this discussion also depends upon what the definition of ‘good design’ is. Ideally of course it’s the contextually-correct balance of styling, function, ergonomics, production and material choice.

But we designers tend to gravitate towards the cooler looking products when we scan the media, and often neglect the well-designed products that are just plain looking.

It’s also worth pointing out that often a designer is asked to make a good/better/best version of a product, where the ‘good’ version should clearly look cheaper and plainer than the others. IMO that still doesn’t make it ‘bad design’.

Good design maybe the function is more powerful ,so the hardware cost maybe more.But if just a good ID,I think it’s more cost depend on the surface finish or the mold tooling,the injection or the production cost maybe the same.

But there are a question ,what is the good design ,how to know the design is good?In my opinion ,there are 2 design means good design ,one is very easy to produce,the cost is low,the ID seems OK,sale very good,could bring big profit for the firm,it’s always not the top product.the other is a idea just tell people you could do this,but bring little profit even no profits.

i think you guys were right on when you were talking about PERCEIVED Value\cost etc…

theres alot of factors behind the price of a product - one of which i don’t think i’ve heard yet : the amount of viable alternatives on the market. competition etc… substitutes - not talking about needed goods here, more wanted items.

stuff costs what it does because some rich idiot will pay that much for it.
simple as that.