How and why design is transforming business leadership

Lee Coomber
- Leadership - Oct 31, 2016

Design in business has gone through quite the evolution. Leading brands such as Nike are hiring designers into C-suite roles. Consulting and financial companies are hoovering up design firms. In the last year alone, IBM acquired three design agencies.

This is all for good reason. Design-led companies outperformed the S&P by 219 percent over the last ten years, while workers with a design element to their role have been found to be 41 percent more productive than the average – delivering £47,400 in output (GVA per worker) compared with £33,600 across the rest of the economy (Design Council). Looking at these numbers it is hardly surprising that design has become more important to business than ever before.

But what is driving design to take on such a pivotal role?

Design makes business strategy tangible

Design brings the business strategy to life. The creative vision sets the tempo internally as well as how customers understand an organisation’s intention and personality.

Would Innocent’s drinks brand be as strong if the packaging didn’t produce the lowest carbon footprint possible or make transparency of ingredients central? The design clearly reflects and projects Innocent’s business strategy and immerses customers in a bigger, emotionally centred idea. It talks the talk and walks the walk.

Customer expectations are end-to-end

Thanks to changing consumer behaviour and expectations, brands need to design for an end-to-end experience, solving problems at every turn and fitting into, and enhancing, the consumer’s life at multiple touchpoints.

Uber or Hailo may not offer new products and services, but they certainly deliver a new way of experiencing travel. Both anticipate customer anxieties, irritations and emotional needs, and solve them with a joined-up experience and intuitive design. From beginning to end, their design choices ladder up to a seamless experience, simplifying, reassuring and placing the customer in total control.

Businesses are under pressure to embrace the on-demand age

We are in an age where businesses live in their customers’ pockets, existing as a sequence of scrolls, swipes, taps, motions and auditory cues. This has created the need for businesses to understand the art and science of sensory engagement. Businesses now need to craft every pixel, create actions that are more playful and understand the power of an open dialogue with their customers.

Take Ebay, Giffgaff, Deliveroo and a host of other digital businesses that live almost entirely as interfaces. While these organisations may feel like they have a face and a personality, they are the sum total of graphics, symbols, colour, type, language and layout. In other words, they live through design.

Design simplifies and seduces to win the hearts of customers

The answer to our noisy world of media and messages is simplification. And simplicity in design gives space and time back to harassed consumers — which they’ll appreciate you for. But it doesn’t, and mustn’t, mean generic, bland or undifferentiated. Design must create space for joy and seduction. It must find ways to surprise, delight and tickle the senses.

Take Google, a master of this drive for simplicity. Ruthlessly fighting to keep digital experiences clean, the brand brings the magic back through its rotating homepage imagery. Part playful, part social commentary, these designs help the Google experience to remain fresh, relevant and appealing.

Design is to business what evolution is to nature: it enables business to change and survive. Design has become less a visual strategy than a means of facilitating continuous dialogue and building emotional connections in a complex world — striving to anticipate, seamlessly, what customers need and do. And it is how businesses show that they understand how customers live in the world, and how they can make it better.

By Lee Coomber, Senior Partner, Lippincott

Read the October 2016 issue of Business Review Europe magazine. 

Follow @BizReviewEurope

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