March 23, 2012

Integrating Design Thinking into corporations

Most executive agendas are concerned about not only finding the right mixture of crucial business processes to achieve their goals, but also securing the best quality in the performance of corporate business processes. The problem, however, is that when everyone has read from the same book, everyone will act according to the same mantras and agendas and achieve average results, if any.

In other words, it’s all about creating business and thus, focusing on business development. Any corporate executive would agree with this. In order to address this topic we need to assume that most companies are concerned about at least three major issues:

  • Fulfilling present future customer needs
  • Beating the competition
  • Creating profits and shareholder value

Speedo Aqualab - Innovation in material: LZR Racer Elite Record Breaker Kneeskin (2009). Design of ultra lightweight and water repellent suit. Fast drying fabric reduces friction drag. FINA 2011 Approved. Photo: Danish Design Centre.

Searching for excellence

Companies searching for more than this are companies that are searching for excellence. There are quite a few of these companies in Europe, but most of them are still searching. Some companies, however, have succeeded and have achieved a position as market-leaders within their field of business. In a country like Italy one will find quite a few small and medium sized companies, which have achieved such a position within areas like ski boots, spectacles, furniture. These companies have created the three values mentioned above by implementing design as a competitive tool and have, thus, achieved a distinct identity and an international brand.

Award for Design Excellence (Norway, 2012) - textile and clothing design, Odin Fast Pack Jacket, Helly Hansen AS. Photo: Berit Berg Stig Kristensen, Sigve Aspelund, Tim Matsui. / Norweigan Design Council.

The challenge

The challenge is to identify and implement a business development tool that makes a difference and creates unique and profitable values, when integrated with establishes business processes. Design is such a tool. The problem is that a majority of European companies are not aware of this. Those companies that acknowledge the value of design as part of corporate business development are the companies that are profitable category leaders within their business field today. They have identified design thinking and design procedures as the ‘missing link’ in order to create the extra value in the interface between the market and the corporation. That is what makes a difference.

Corporate consequence

In order to utilise design as a catalytic value in corporate business development, the company has to:

  • Acknowledge design thinking and procedures as a business tool in itself
  • Adapt the organisational know-how and operational procedures to the business tool
  • Integrate this into established business processes such as: Product Development, Marketing, Production & Logistics, Corporate material, PR and information, Sales and information, Organisational behaviour/Corporate Culture.

Award for Design Excellence (Norway, 2012 - visual communication), Netlife Research AS, profile program. Photo: Netlife Research / Norweigan Design Council.

Who owns the challenge?

In most companies the board of directors, the CEO, and his or her management team will open any business development issue. With a commitment at company top-level, design will be put on the company agenda. This will have a strong influence on company behaviour and create the necessary culture for design-focus and design-performance in order to achieve a profitable competitive edge. Studios of successful companies that have been performed in different countries, strongly supports this viewpoint. Thus, it is imperative that the commitment to integrate design into corporations starts within the boardroom, and as a consequence, is executed by the CEO and his team. This is not the case in most European corporations. They simply do not know why they should implement design as part of their business processes, and certainly not how to do it.

Subwing, underwater transducer (Award for Design Excellence/Norway, 2012).Photo: Simon Sivertsen / Subwing AS. Norweigan Design Council.

The bottom line

Any initiative towards introducing design as a business tool for creating a corporate competitive edge should start with initiatives aimed at the board of directors and the top management level. Without such initiatives a lot of companies will neither be exposed to why design is important nor how to implement design in company business processes.

Jan R. Stavik

Jan R. Stavik

Director of The Norweigan Design Council and former President of BEDA.

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