Four reasons why Business Design delivers results and reinvents strategy

John Oswald
- Leadership - Sep 30, 2016

It stands to reason that every business wants to dominate its marketplace, but achieving that is obviously tricky. 

For many, the design world, and design thinking in particular, are proving to be a great source of inspiration – emerging as more than just aesthetics and even helping resolve strategic business challenges.

But moving beyond Design Thinking to Business Design is a relatively new hybrid approach to problem solving and strategy, centred on the human experience. It delves deep into ideas, looking at means of implementation and how design thinking can help with their execution.  While a somewhat daunting prospect at first, here are four reasons why this approach can help businesses better impact their industries.

Measure success by more than profitability and growth

Imagine a spectrum of objectives and measures of success. At one end, you have organisations that want to solve the needs of humanity at large. While its brand purpose aims are holistic, there’s a risk of losing focus very quickly as it tries to do too much at once. However, at the other end of the spectrum, those businesses that focus narrowly on operational excellence and shareholder value, risk abandoning their original purpose far quicker. What business design does is balance out these two extremes and forge a stronger, balanced business strategy.

As a result, it’s time for a new method of measuring business success. It’s no longer about profitability and shareholder value, but also ensuring you’re delivering against your purpose. There are lessons to learn and people to nurture – not just money to make.

It’s not about cutting costs, but adding value

Many people might see business design as a way to save money, but it’s not the main reason to venture down this road. Shareholders may worry about ROI, but business design measures against complementary metrics. An organisation represents more than just the numbers in the annual reports; the glue that binds it consists of goals, ideals, and principles. What business design does is help organisations find that equilibrium between business and human needs.

Recognising the importance of business design as a critical strategy was Commerzbank. They observed a gap opening up between the type of experience they offered consumers, and the one that customers expected in an age of connected services and digital communications. Wanting to prioritise user experience, it established an in-house design team to take the task on. Commerzbank isn’t just a ‘customer-friendly’ bank; it’s a modern company that puts its consumers first across every part of its organisation.

This approach creates a tangible plan for the future

Companies are no longer defined by their heritage and longevity – their success and failure can now be decided in years rather than decades. The number of century-old firms is declining rapidly – and we’re seeing a startling increase in start-ups and young businesses bursting onto the scene. A study from the John M. Olin School of Business at Washington University estimates that 40% of today's Fortune 500 companies on the S&P 500 will no longer exist in 10 years. So everyone needs a strong future-proof strategy, or risk crumbling in the face of difficult times.

During Fjord’s recent work with Kingfisher, we helped the home-improvement store establish a core digital strategy and human approach by asking them about the customer experience. When a customer goes into a home improvement store, they don’t simply want a quick solution or product; they want advice and confidence, something that will help them make improvements that stand the test of time. Kingfisher now thinks as its consumers do and its in-house hub for design thinking is a long-term proposition – they can iterate and build a roadmap that can secure its future.

Business Design is transferable across sectors

The most obvious candidates to adopt design thinking are consumer brands; the ones that we experience in our daily lives. It’s difficult to think of a consumer-facing company that doesn’t tailor its strategy and approach to the customer. But we’re seeing business design become a key trend in the more traditionally-minded B2B sector, as they strive to stand out for their more human-centric approach.

Proving the value of business design can be tricky but it’s certainly doable. For example, when developing a new application or tweak to an existing proposition, use it as an opportunity to trial design thinking. Build a small team, encourage them to push the limits, and leave them to develop at their own pace. If this team can create a superior quality of work in three weeks that previously might have taken three years to design, then this is proof of the value of business design.

That said, it’s not about replacing a traditional business approach altogether, but merely time to bridge the gap between thinking like a designer and a business executive. Business design is a methodology that merges both ways of thinking to enable optimum business success.

By John Oswald, Business Design Director at Fjord, Design and Innovation from Accenture Interactive

Read the September 2016 issue of Business Review Europe magazine. 

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