Design to Innovate

According to data from the Design Council National Survey of Firms 2005:-

  • Two thirds of companies who ignore design have to compete mainly on price. In companies where design is integral, just one third do so.
  • More than 80% design-led companies have introduced a new product or service in the last three years, compared to just 40% of UK companies overall. 83% of companies in which design is integral have seen their market share increase, compared to the UK average of 46%.
  • Design is integral to 39% of rapidly growing companies but to only 7% of static ones.
  • 80 per cent of design-led businesses have opened up new markets in the last three years. Only 42% of UK businesses overall have done so.
  • A business that increases its investment in design is more than twice as likely to see its turnover grow as a business that does not do so.
  • Businesses that spend £100 on design can expect their sales to increase by £250

The secret of using design well is to incorporate it at the very earliest stages of your innovation rather than attempt to impose it retrospectively, which ends up being as successful as putting lipstick on a gorilla!

You may feel that design has little relevance to your business, particularly if you are in the professional services market, or have other intangible products or services. However when you consider that design is defined as “making things better for people”, then doesn’t it become a little different? Aren’t you in the business of making things better for your customers?

“A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.” Douglas Adams

This quote gives a clue as to why design is relevant to you whatever your business; if your message can be misunderstood, it will be; if your product can be misused, it will be; and who will suffer most… you will! People, given a choice between blaming failure on their own stupidity or failure to read the instructions and blaming a poor supplier will always blame the supplier.

You need to be reviewing your products or marketing materials and looking at them with new, fresh eyes. What do they say about you and your business? Is the message they give congruent with who you are and who you aspire to be? If you are in the services sector, do your people look like they represent a premium brand?

Design is more a way of looking at things, a way of thinking. One of the key benefits of bringing in a designer is to give you a fresh pair of eyes to look at (and for) your problems and that is always hugely valuable. You need to be using multi-disciplinary teams to review and resolve your problems, bring in outsiders and value the maverick!

Good design usually drives towards simplification, and as we all know, simplification usually finds its way to the bottom line. It reduces waste in terms of time, effort and materials. Where are you wasting your time, or worse still, your customers? Do you have any way of knowing the answer to this?

Like so many things in business, if you want to run an organization that values design, simplification and waste reduction then you have to model those behaviours. Are you always challenging people to simplify or demanding complexity?

Whilst you may not feel that you wish to take the Design Council up on its advice to engage a professional designer at the heart of your team, businesses like Virgin Atlantic that have done so are increasing their market share. Their new flat seat design won them extra customers and certainly improved their image as innovators.

However, whilst you may be able to succeed without the help of a design professional, I would suggest that you do not have a viable option to opt out of setting up systems to ensure that innovation, simplification and responsiveness to customers are at the heart of your business.

PS>> You might pause to reflect that whilst British designers are considered world leaders, few British businesses take advantage of this resource, so we hand that commercial advantage to our foreign competitors!

“I design for real people. I think of our customers all the time. There is no virtue whatsoever in creating clothing or accessories that are not practical.” Giorgio Armani

  • 1. Richard Seymour, designer
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