Posts Tagged ‘design strategy’

Design is everywhere, man!

In today’s fast paced media savvy world the word design is thrown around from many different directions. We hear about industrial design, interior design, product design, web design, UX design, service design, graphic design, fashion design and so on. There are many interpretations out there, so what is design really?

The word design is often misappropriated and used by individuals to mean planning or styling, and whilst these activities are a subset of the act of design they do not constitute design as a whole.  We define design as a complex problem solving process whereby artefacts are reimagined and created to attain goals. In essence what this means is that design is about solving complex problems, those that require specialist skills, often involve more than one discipline and affect more than a single person. The outcome of design is the creation of something new, an artefact, which may be a physical product, a service, an experience, a process or even a new methodology. And finally, design has purpose. It has a specific end goal that it is deliberately working towards.

So now that we have a working definition of design we also need to understand how design may be applied. Design can exist as an action or as philosophy. Design as action is focussed on the creation of a tangible outcome or artefact, be that a product, service etc. Design as philosophy is a mindset and an approach to tackling challenges that embraces the unknown, is visionary and above all else is human-centred. Design as philosophy has been translated more recently in the business world under the moniker of design thinking. Traditionally design has been viewed by most people as an action rather than as a philosophy. However, as products and services increasingly become commoditised, organisations are exploring other ways to gain a competitive advantage in the business landscape. As a result we are seeing design being applied strategically as a philosophy integrated across entire organisations, many of them organisations that traditionally have had little or nothing to do with design e.g. financial institutions.

Evolving role of design

“As a way of working and thinking, design sits between the two poles of science, which observes the facts of the material world, and the humanities, which interprets the complexities of human experience. Design is a culture that blends the concerns of science and the humanities to search for outcomes that are balanced and opportunistic, grounded in the real world but driven by human aspirations. It is equally concerned with probing the limits of our current reality as it is with making new realities possible.”1

The role of design has changed over the past 80 years, mirroring changes in society. Design was traditionally focussed on the aesthetic styling of products, the creation of a beautiful skin. Today, design provides strategic value and is no longer relegated to the R&D department but has a seat at the corporate boardroom table in progressive organisations. Having design sit in the C-suite brings more balance to organisations and puts people at the centre of business alongside dollars and resources.

Design is now being applied to the business itself, as well as the products and services that a business produces. Using a design mindset, organisations are able to embrace uncertainty and unknowns as opportunities for new directions, growth and innovation. Applying design to the organisation itself also ensures alignment between the corporate vision, the products and services offered to customers and the delivery model. Design increasingly plays a pivotal role in creating visions that lead and inspire organisations and their customers alike. Design is driving organisations to truly understand their customers in order to better create value, deliver meaningful experiences and make deeper, more insightful connections with their customers, be they an individual or another organisation.

In our ever changing world it is critical for design to be strategic and visionary because designers shape the world of tomorrow. Designers drive the values and behaviours of the next generation through the experiences, products and services we deliver today. We condition and set their expectations of connectivity, immediate gratification and constant novelty/ newness. Who could have predicted or imagined the far reaching impacts of the iPad/ iPhone – you can now find out anything you need to know, anytime, anywhere; book your next holiday while you’re taking a tea break; or crowd fund your next great idea without needing a bank loan. Design acts as an enabler and encourages individuals to be innovative and break new ground.

And of course, design is still the key driver for the development of physical products. The application of design to product development ensures that all priorities are balanced to ensure the delivery of a feasible, viable and desirable product. Design balances competing requirements from functionality to ergonomics and ease of use, materials selection to manufacturability, regulatory requirements to aesthetic objectives, user experience to budgets and timeframes.

What does design do for you?

In a perfect world there would be no need for design as everything would work together seamlessly. But the reality is that we live in an imperfect world full of complex problems which is why we need design. Design affects each one of us every single day on many different levels, often without us even realising it. The alarm on your phone that woke you this morning – a designer helped ensure you made it out of bed. Your coffee machine and the mug you drank your caffeine from – you have a designer to thank for that. Your car or the train you caught to work – a designer created that ride and that experience for you. Checking your Facebook / Twitter / LinkedIn feed on your tablet/ smartphone/ laptop – many designers created the experience, hardware and software for you to stay connected personally, socially and professionally.

Design strives to make our lives easier, it shapes the environment we live in, and of course it drives the world of commerce. Design boosts the economy by helping to drive innovation and connect business opportunities to markets and talent. It drives and shapes culture and society by connecting people, forming people’s perceptions and values, sparking our imagination and inspiring us to greatness. Design provides businesses with ways to connect with internal and external customers and delivers greater competitive advantage. According to the Design Value Index (DVI) study, companies that implement and embed design management practices across their organisation show 10 year returns yielding 2.11 times (211%) that of the S&P 500 companies2. And on a personal level, design helps us to express who we are (or who we aspire to be) and provides a sense of satisfaction through the experiences it creates and the connections it enables us to make.

Design as practice

Now that we know what design is and how its role is changing within society, let’s look at who actually does design. The fact is, everybody designs in some way, whether they realise it or not. The 6 year old child who is bored and creates a game to play is designing a solution for their boredom. The housewife who needs to buy a range of things from the supermarket and makes a shopping list to remember everything is designing a solution to how to remember all the things she needs to buy. She could equally have taken a photograph of each item or recorded an audio list on her phone instead of the written shopping list. While in both of these examples problems were being solved, the problems were simple and really only affected one person. We would not call the child or housewife a designer. While everyone designs, not everyone is a designer.

A professional designer is someone who has studied design at a tertiary level and applies that knowledge in a professional capacity to solve the challenges of other people and organisations. Today there are many disciplines that practice design including architecture, industrial design, interior design, engineering and even scientists. For our purposes however, we’re focussed on professional designers of products, experiences and services. Having said this, we recognise that to achieve a successful design outcome you need collaboration between multiple design disciplines in the right balance depending on the nature of the project. For example, the design of a new car would require more engineering expertise than the design of a range of glass ware.

A professional designer brings specific values in terms of both their mindset and the processes/ methods they use. Professional designers are trained to put people at the heart of what they do – not numbers, materials, costs or other myriad things. People first. This sounds simple, but it is not. In fact it is often the hardest thing because people are so variable and in some respects unpredictable. In actual fact, when confronted with all the requirements of an organisation that ultimately must deliver a profit, people often get lost. Designers can balance and weigh many competing requirements simultaneously. More importantly, designers also understand when to put certain objectives to the side temporarily in order to let creativity flourish and not squash good ideas before they have had a chance to breathe and develop legs.

Designers are open-minded and flexible in the way they work, which can appear mildly chaotic or unorthodoxed to the uninitiated. This is because design by its very nature is circular – a continuous cycle of observe, ideate, create, test and refine. Such processes can seem unstructured and repetitive to people used to working with linear problem solving methods. The benefits of the design process are huge – learning happens in real time thus avoiding costly mistakes further on, customer feedback is incorporated before launch and all stakeholders are involved from the beginning. The result is a smoother process with buy-in from all parties, shorter development timeframes, fewer issues after launch and greater customer acceptance. Who wouldn’t be happy with that outcome?!

So if your business wants to inspire people, connect with them and grow into the future, use design (and professional designers) – from top to bottom, inside to outside. Your customers, your talent and your organisation will thank you.

1 Bryan Boyer, Justin W. Cook & Marco Steinberg, 2011 In Studio: Recipes for system change, Sitra, Helsinki Finland, p25

2  J Rae 2015 dmi: Design Value Index Results and Commentary, http://www.dmi.org/?page=2015DVIandOTW

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Strategic Design – your innovation enabler

The term strategy has long been used by the military (Sun Tzu’s The Art of War from 500 BC) and more recently (since the ‘40’s) in business circles. Some of you may think it has dark and underhanded connotations – meaning that the military or the business were up to no good. How wrong that view is. Strategy has been used in business in for the good of the business for some time now. For example organisations may adopt a low cost strategy to compete more aggressively in the market or adopt an acquisition strategy to rapidly grow in the market or attain skills and expertise in a complementary market sector.

Today, however we hear the word strategy being used in a slightly different context – in the design context. So you may ask, what has design got to do with strategy? Well the answer to that is everything. Strategic design refers to the discipline where designers use their mindset, values, tools, creativity, methods and experience to influence strategic decision making within organisations. Strategic decisions within an organisation have long term impact, require monetary commitment and typically include multiple stakeholders and non-monetary resources. Such decisions could relate to the formation of organisational vision, business opportunity and innovation definition, customer engagement and organisational culture.

Before we delve into the world of strategic design it is worthwhile to take a few moments and have a brief look at the development and the value that design brings. By looking historically at the general design movements over the last 80 years or so we can see that design has provided value to society, business and the individual on an ever increasingly sophisticated scale. Design in the ‘40’s was considered as styling – something that was wrapped around the functionality of a product in order to make it attractive. As the decades passed design became more sophisticated, increasingly operating at a level beyond the functional product to encompass changing societal values  e.g. sharp aerodynamic features borrowed from jet aircraft that were applied to cars during the ‘50’s and ‘60’s. As time progressed the notion of the user became more integrated within the product offering and so functionality and form were considered together. Sustainability and social responsibility drove design in the ‘90’s and early ‘2000’s due to greater awareness of the environmental movement. Today we see the notions of customer experience and strategy playing a role in the delivery of design value. New movements develop as they become embedded and widely adopted within society. Today, as always, design has shaped and directed the future.

So why is this happening? Well, first of all, design reflects the values of society and reinterprets these values through some sort of product or service which we will call an artefact. We also all know the world has changed a lot in the last 80 years. It has become a much more complex beast, through globalisation, improved communications, asset rich societies, and increasing global conflict and human displacement. Problems have become more complex and interrelated on multiple levels. No longer can we just resolve a problem in isolation, with a few facts at hand. The fact that organisations and individuals now communicate globally and instantly means that the word has become more accessible. Problems and issues are shared not only in the local community but globally.

By its very nature design is a profession that transcends multiple disciplines and some might argue (this author included) that design by definition is essentially a problem solving activity – a complex problem solving process whereby artefacts are structured to attain goals. Design has the ability to lead because it is transformative as it applies design thinking, systems and integrative thinking, and human centred values across the problem to be solved. The ability for designers to challenge the unknown and to test the waters of the future place the discipline in a unique and key position.

In this complex and interrelated world the way we resolve problems needs to be tackled in a different way. No longer can issues be resolved in isolation within a silo by a lone bureaucrat or CEO or company board. We need people who can challenge the norm, step back and ask why, view the problem from multiple perspectives and have the ability to reframe the problem and direct others during this process. This is where design can take the lead. This is where design can become strategic.

Traditionally design sat in the R&D or engineering group, perhaps it was part of marketing and in some leading organisations design had its own group. Whatever the case, design was relegated to the act of design and its influence within the organisation was limited to the development of artefacts and branding. Today the notion of strategic design moves design from the R&D group to the executive suite or even the boardroom. As artefacts become commodities organisations are actively looking for new ways to gain a competitive advantage in the business landscape. Increasingly organisations are embracing design at a strategic, cultural and organisational level to give them this competitive advantage. Design as strategy moves design from an act to a philosophy which is infused across an organisation.

Design brings new value to business when it is integrated across all senior levels. Design no longer becomes just a service provider but a strategic partner in innovation. It has the ability to address issues and complex problems at a senior level where it has the most influence. It is applied at the same level as more traditional disciplines such as marketing, sales and finance, and in fact to be truly strategic, design should be applied across, within and outside an organisation. Design applied at a strategic level can contribute to the identification and development of opportunities. Design can evaluate the extent to which the opportunity meets the needs (both known and unknown) and desires of the customer (Desirability), and balance this with the performance needs (Viability) and capability (Feasibility) of the organisation.

So what does strategic design mean for business? Well it means that organisations become much more capable and self-sustaining. Design helps change the mindset and culture of an organisation from one focused on the production of an artefact to that of a more considered human centred approach. This could be through the concept of co-creation and collaboration with customers and stakeholders to help achieve the development of fantastic customer experiences. It means that design can be applied as an integrator within an organisation to develop human centred effective and efficient processes, defining operational frameworks and just getting stuff done.  Design applied strategically helps determine the right product for the right market at the right time. It ensures that the business model aligns with the organisational strategy. Design supported by design research, develops a unified customer experience across all touchpoints, creates behavioural change, builds capacity and ultimately improves product delivery to your customer.

If you would like to talk to Scintilla more about how to apply design in a more strategic way then please contact us – hello@scintilladesign.com.

 To finish I leave you with one of my favourite quotes;

Tactics is something you do when you know what to do, strategy is knowing what to do when there is nothing to do

Savielly Tartakower, chess grandmaster (In: Studio Recipes for Systemic Change: Boyer, B, Cook, J & Steinberg, M, (HDL)).

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