The bar of good design is raising fast and there is growing corporate interest in design. Consumers love cool design and some companies are cashing in big profits by it, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Beyond the trendy but fleeting appearance, what lies below the surface is a sustainable business advantage. Here’s how.
The process of designing encourages new ideas. Designers like to ask “why”, explore alternatives, and to create new stuff – products, web sites, brands, stores, etc. This often involves cross-functional collaboration, new ideas for products and services, and ultimately to change. Design thinking and the co-creation process can even help companies create new markets and businesses. Companies like Intuit and Four Seasons have changed their corporate culture, and how they compete, by encouraging such collaborative processes.
One of the benefits engaging design teams in a higher level of collaboration is that it often leads to improved innovation. Design helps bring innovation to market, whether technology innovation, process innovation or customer experience innovation. Just take away the design part of any innovative idea and see what you’re left with – what would a Dyson Airblade hand dryer be without its unique usability?
In addition, design is a way to differentiate and build uniqueness. This involves not only visual identity and branding but also differentiating products and services from competitors and enabling experiences that cannot be easily copied.
We live in an experience economy, and design helps make meaningful experiences that can be a path to business transformation. Philips Lighting wanted to sell more light bulbs, but the products have developed to the point where differentiation is hard to achieve, so they have looked into the retail experience. They connected with Engine Service Design to create a new software and a service platform that helps their retailers manage their lighting and media assets across their premises. The simple light bulb became differentiated through service design and the retailer experience.
Lastly, design is a method to simplify. We live in complexity, and there is nothing like using the sensibilities of design to unpack wicked problems, not to mention everyday problems. Has anyone struggled reading the information on your prescription containers? This can be solved by keeping the user in mind, as Target did so perfectly.
Smart companies are leveraging design as a financial asset with tangible and intangible benefits, and intangible assets are redefining corporate value and revolutionizing the ways businesses compete.
Design is about human capital, which goes well beyond short-term success. Design has appeal, but behind the scenes, beyond the headlines, are savvy design leaders that are setting a vision and building a corporate cultural tone that has bottom-line benefits and a sustainable business advantage.