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Good design is good for business

Tuesday, 23 June 2015   (0 Comments)
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“When I first learned about design, I immediately thought it meant making something – making a product. But we’re not only designing objects, we’re designing strategies. We’re designing teams. We’re designing the way we work.” This was Kate Dill, Head of Experience Design at Airbnb, sharing her insights in a recent interview with Fast Company.

Making the case for design in business is about more than creating a new logo or building a website. Design in business is about bringing design thinking into all aspects of the business, from the customer’s first contact with the organisation, to the internal communication with staff members.

Dill continues: “Great design thinks about the business, the planet, and the users that are going to be impacted by those decisions. You’re thinking through big questions like: What are the implications of these choices? What is the problem I’m trying to solve? What is the outcome? We seek to make the right decisions based on all of those factors – making the appropriate compromises to find a solution that will be the best fit for all of these variables. That, to me, is design.”

While design as a business discipline is not new, design in business is a growing focus for organisations. Apple built its reputation by creating beautiful devices, using Steve Jobs’ legendary mantra of end-to-end design, and yet it has only recently promoted its head designer, Jony Ive to Chief Design Officer. In this new role, he will focus on design across the whole business – including its stores, office campus and furniture. This expanded focus will zoom out from designing Apple’s globally popular tech gadgets, to incorporate a broader, business-wide design-led approach.

Google, too, has begun to see the value of design. Chief Executive Officer Larry Page assembled a group of designers to try and standardise its products, modernising and unifying its main applications under a single design language. The result is a cleaner, more coherent design aesthetic that has moved Google away from its former utilitarian simplicity. Evelyn Kim, designer at Google Maps, quoted in this article, explained the process of embedding design thinking into the business:

"To convince people about design, we had to say, ‘This is going to solve user problems’. It’ll take less steps, or people will find that perfect place for a romantic dinner," says Kim. "You always have to frame it as these are the people we’re trying to help. You try to say, ‘This is important as a company to help not ourselves but something bigger than that.’"

The tech world isn’t the only sector using design to shape business processes and systems. In a recent report back on the 2015 Front End of Innovation Conference, held in Boston in June, the Design Management Institute highlighted how consumer products firm Procter & Gamble and pharmaceutical manufacturer Pfizer are both using designing thinking to improve the way they do business.

The conference revealed three core elements that helped the two businesses introduce design thinking mindsets:

1. Focus on culture. Pfizer has 400 design thinking champions throughout the business to help support a design thinking mindset.

2. Look outside the design function. Daniel Sims, Principal Designer at Procter & Gamble, quoted in the article, explains: “Design thinking is a way of coming up with solutions you would have never predicted you could have reached…I see design thinking as not a specifically ‘design process,’ where you follow steps, but it’s more a point of view where you look at first starting with a very human-centric approach.”

3. Leaders must steer the ship. This is best summed up by a quote from the conference from Pfizer’s Anthony Lambrou: “It’s really important for leaders to clearly signal that [support for risk-taking] in the organisation. They steer the ship in terms of how people are thinking.”

What has your business done to entrench design thinking into your systems and processes? Tell us your story, by sending us an email.

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