Mankind has valued design for as long as we can remember. Just think about the Seven Wonders of the World or the creative genius of Michelangelo.

Great form, which refuses to sacrifice great function, is hotter than ever. Last year, the Design Management Institute and Motiv published a study claiming that design-driven companies outperformed the S&P by 228 percent over a period of ten years.

"The basic premise," the study explains, "is that using design methods to understand customer needs leading to insights that constitute strategic competitive advantages."

The study also suggests that margins can be driven higher by generating an I gotta have it at any cost mentality on the part of customers.

So what can you learn from the top design-centric companies in the world? Consider the following four examples:

1. Nike: The power of a logo.

The Nike "swoosh." It's one of the most recognized logos in the world, and has helped sell billions of dollars of merchandise through the years.

Carolyn Davidson designed the icon in 1971 as a college student, and was originally paid only $35 for her work. (She later received 500 shares of stock as a thank you.)

Davidson says she wanted a symbol that conveyed motion, looked good on a shoe, and would be liked by the rest of the team.

Almost 45 years later, that $35 logo has evolved into a brand that Forbes recently estimated to be worth over $15 billion.

How's that for ROI?

Lesson: Don't underestimate the value of a great logo. It may cost you more than $35, but if successful, it'll be worth its weight in gold.

2. Ikea: Broaden your horizons.

When I got married, my wife left her home country of Germany and joined me in New York. For anyone who's ever moved away, you know how difficult the first few years can be.

So whenever my wife got homesick, where did she want to go?


In her words, it was the one place she could visit that felt "just like back home."

As I've shared that story through the years, I've found it resonates with others. How can Ikea feel like home to so many people from so many different countries?

According to its website, Ikea representatives visit thousands of homes around the world every year. The purpose? "To find out what people want, need, and (if we're really lucky) some of their wildest dreams. We then turn these insights into new ideas and solutions to make everyday life a little better."

It works. Millions around the world feel "at home" in Ikea, no matter which country they're from...or currently in. Including my wife.

Lesson: Learn from your customers. Don't just ask. Watch, scrutinize, analyze. Observe how they use your products or services. See what works and what doesn't.

Then, commit to making things better.

3. Starbucks: Design an experience.

The king of the five dollar coffee.

Why are so many people willing to spend so much money on one of the most ubiquitous beverages in the world?

CEO Howard Schultz put it perfectly in his interview with Katie Couric a few years ago:

"People around the world, they want the authentic Starbucks experience."

Ah yes, "the Starbucks experience." You're not paying for coffee; you're paying for that soft leather sofa, the Norah Jones in the background, and the most valuable and sought-after resource in the world:

Unlimited Wi-Fi.

Demand for "the experience" has only increased in today's culture of freelancers and coffee-meeting schedulers.

Lesson: Don't provide customers simply a product, or even a service.

Give them an experience.

4. Apple: Think different.

It's more than the company slogan. As Steve Jobs once said: "It's really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them."

Jobs wasn't implying that market research is useless. He was simply stating that good design can solve problems that people don't yet know they have.

Apple struggled for years in Microsoft's shadow. But along the way, it built one of the most loyal customer bases in the world. It succeeded because once consumers tasted good design, they refused to go back.

And as the company started "jumping curves," the masses followed.

Lesson: Resist the fear to be different. It might take time for everything to click, but do you really want to be like everyone else?

I didn't think so.

So...what are you waiting for? Start implementing these design lessons in your company today, if you're not already.

I can't wait to see what you come up with.