Using Design in Business – still some way to go

from design to businessThe relationship between business practitioners and design practitioners is fascinating. On the one hand it brings two worlds together that are strongly drawn to each other these days (e.g. Apple, P&G, Ideo). On the other hand, despite the mutual attraction, most people from both worlds do not yet (fully) understand how much (more) they could actually benefit from each other than today.

I understood a little more about this relationship/overlap while attending a really interesting presentation by Steven Ritchey on “user centered design”. Steven currently works for a Swiss private bank on Web projects, but his talk drew from a long global experience on design & the Internet.

From a business perspective there are three main takeaways that I get from his talk when mixing it with my own thoughts & experience:

1) Some business people still have a cliché of the designer’s role & work, which they think focuses on the visual:

Design is still too often seen as “making things nice”. Designers are frequently brought in to give things a nice appearance - e.g. in the late stages of product or Web development. In his presentation Steve called this “putting lipstick on a pig” :-) And even when designers are fully involved in product or web conceptualization & development business people tend to focus on the wrong thing. In meetings they will point out the visual (“hey, I think that button should be orange”) rather than the functional (“hey, why can’t we personalize this info”), because that’s the way they think they have to deal with design. This might sound schematic, but it comes pretty close to reality… By the way, the visual is only about 10% of the design process. The bulk goes into conceptualization and interaction design.

2) Many business people apply design methods without actually realizing it and hence do not use the design approach and its methods to its full potential:

For example, I recently read the book “Blue Ocean Strategy” by Kim & Mauborgne. It’s a business strategy book with an interesting approach to creating innovative value propositions (link). In one section the authors describe how executives study customer behavior to subsequently draw so-called “strategy canvases”. A strategy canvas describes and visualizes a potential value proposition. In another section they outline how various key stakeholders, including customers, come together to help the executives choose among the different proposed strategy canvases (i.e. value propositions). To me this sounds pretty much like a design approach which applies some design methods, such as user (customer) observation, prototyping (drawing strategy canvases) and involving the user (customer) in the decision process. More and more companies apply similar strategic methods, but they often don’t realize how closely this resembles the design approach. As a consequence they don’t benefit from the methods, best practices and lessons accumulated in decades of experience in the design field.

3) Business people should learn about the design approach & process and not only invest in the design outcome if they want to get the most from design:

As mentioned in the previous point, business people could learn a lot from the design approach itself. From what I read on business and design these days this is not the case. Business people still mainly recognize the value of the traditional design outcome: the designed product as a strategic differentiator (e.g. iPod, Cailler (Nestlé) chocolate packaging in Switzerland, etc.). In my opinion design will have a much bigger impact when its approach and methods are applied to the strategic process itself, as well as to designing business models, processes and implementation strategies.

Uups, the post got longer than I intended… The topic is too fascinating because it’s about the future of business ;-)

(illustration from Flickr by dailyinvention)