Interviews

How is design changing the way businesses operate?

3 min read

10 February 2014

Companies like BMW, Alessi and Apple use design to differentiate their products, but design is not just for luxury goods and elite products.

There is considerable evidence for design acting as a mechanism for business growth and innovation. But how do companies utilise design to innovate and boost their business performance?

In his report, ‘Leading Business by Design‘, which will form the basis of the Design Council Summit at the British Museum on Wednesday February 12, Pietro Micheli, Associate Professor of Organizational Performance at Warwick Business School, has identified key practices through which organisations in various industries are using design to attain maximum impact. 

Dr Micheli conducted 48 interviews with top management staff at 12 private companies ranging from Barclays, Diageo, Jaguar Land Rover, O2 and Virgin Atlantic to small firms like DCS Europe, Gripple and Trunki.

The report says business leaders cited sales growth, increases in market share, enhanced customer satisfaction, greater process efficiency and employee productivity as results of investments in design. Also, design was used to open up uncontested markets, strengthening brands and differentiating products and services to attract new customers.

To reap the full benefit of design, though, Dr Micheli found a company needs to have it fully embedded in its organisation.

“Our analysis reveals that the impact of design is lowest when design is seen as a service – an organisational function that has a well-defined and limited scope. It is higher when designers are involved throughout the process of new product or service development from beginning to end,” said Dr Micheli.

“The impact of design is greatest when design and designers challenge existing assumptions and meanings of products, services, categories etc.

“How does design become embedded in an organisation, part of its DNA? For all companies and particularly for SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises), the initial answer is clear: the CEO and top management have to support and believe in it.

“We also found that design can benefit manufacturing and service-based organisations, small, medium or large. Plus, design’s benefit is greatest when it is intimately related to solving problems, especially customers’ problems.”

From his research Dr Micheli put together eight recommendations for companies looking to maximise the impact of design:

  1. Don’t limit the context in which design can operate;
  2. Use design to differentiate;
  3. Integrate design and branding;
  4. Introduce a design process;
  5. Trust and support your design talent;
  6. Embed design in your organisational culture;
  7. Design your work environment; and
  8. Don’t let the designer’s role be a straitjacket.

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