Let's face it, the best brands in the world, such as the iconic Apple, Nike, Starbucks, Sony, and so on, have iconic designs that are not smashed together randomly nor done cheaply. Their designs are culminated from serious commitment (that also means financial commitment) to human factors, elegance, and simplicity.
One of my favorite magazines, Fast Company (fastcompany.com), did a feature article on the state of design in the States in their Oct 2011 issue. It was a great read.
When you trace the lineage of the Macintosh, you would notice that the user interface is made to be elegantly simple. That kind of interface did not come from one afternoon of coding. Likewise, from their entire line of colorful iMacs, to the white iBooks, to the later models, and then the iPhone and other iOS devices, all of them spoke of the great application of human factors engineering (or "ergonomics") from the software to to the hardware alike.
Likewise, many of the top brands in the world spent millions of dollars to put product design as important as feature sets and functionality. We are not talking about just the pretty packaging some products go by, but the serious industrial design of the products, so that they are usable, elegant, attractive, and most of all, can be manufactured without trouble. It is a specialized field that has to be left in the hands of passionate professionals.
But what does great design do for a product? In a single world - sales. If you look at the demanding customers today, they are not going to be happy simply with cheap and cheap looking products. The increasing sophistication of the consumer landscape means that they are looking for a holistic engagement and interaction experience with your brand. Your product may be made affordably, but it certainly cannot look cheap. Behind the greatest industrial designs often also lies great manufacturing, that can make nice-looking products at decent prices.
So when building a brand, remember that the best brands, often your most terrifying competitors, are not giving the cavalier treatment of industrial design and packaging design. They are treating design as one of the pillars of a successful product. Do you?