At times, running a business can feel like a tug of war, with multiple ropes and teams pulling in different directions. Perhaps nothing new but why accept the Status Quo? Far too many things are left as legacy or not seen at all. There is an ever-increasing degree of complexity associated with business that is requiring new ways of thinking about business.

As a remedy, many look for something new to use, a quick fix of sorts that keeps the business ticking over with a broad feeling of achievement. Common candidates are those resource heavy areas, where spend is high and an incremental improvement is considered a win for a business department as opposed to the whole.

Today, we expect much from business leaders. We expect leaders to set strategy, to prioritise challenges and to pick the winners to keep shareholders happy! All this against a backdrop of rigid legacy systems, inhumane processes, market disruptors and industry changes, to name but a few. It’s not an easy task and leaves little time to pause for thought.

The Key: Design-Led Innovation

So, how do business leaders overcome today’s challenges? It’s clear that many have a proven formula for success, accompanied by a rhythm and pace to their leadership. SONOS, Dyson, Apple, and Airbnb are global leaders in design-led innovation and have the sales to match. Just imagine the exhilaration that comes from leading a globally successful business, where everyone pulls together to maintain market supremacy rather than operating as an unorganised rabble.

Design with a Capital ‘D’

There are numerous businesses driven by Design. They lead industries large and small and have a rigour unmatched by the pace to innovate and to maintain demand for products and services. At their helm are leaders who advocate for Design and, in an increasing number, practitioners with solid business nous. They understand that Design wears many hats. With a lowercase ‘d’, design is about User Experience and Customer Experience, largely with tactical intent. On the other hand, Design with a capital ‘D’ drives business purpose, orientation, strategy, competitiveness and ultimately, growth through innovation that equates to sales.

Our focus here is the role that Design plays in shaping Services, Businesses and Systemic Designs, which have become game changers for business leaders, taking priority over the internal focus that has largely prevailed until recently.

For Design to be effective, leaders must first recognise that Design is a broad church and has differing applications and outcomes. To flourish, a close union must be drawn between the expected outcomes of Design and the maturity of a business to realise its inherent value. For example, a Customer Experience might deliver incremental revenue for a lifecycle, whereas a Design-led strategy might enable a business to pivot to dominate a value market.

The rise of Design Thinking, courtesy of IDEO and the UK Design Council, has provided businesses with a foundation through which to experiment with Design principles. However, this should not be confused with the wealth of thinking and practices that bring value through the practice of Design. It’s a beginning but not an end state.

Creating a Design-led Business

To create a Design-led business, it’s crucial to recognise that the application of Design in business is best defined as the vital link between creativity and innovation. This brings purpose to products and services, which are humane for customers and users to consume and profitable for the businesses involved.

If you wish to accelerate your business to greater profitability, ask yourself where you might start this journey from. Below is a list of the Top 5 Principles that drive Design-led businesses. You’ll no doubt recognise some if not all of them.

Top 5 Principles

  1. Human-centred Design where the business makes a conscious effort to design for humans, thus making the business more Humane
  2. Experimentation where ideas and concepts are prototyped, tested and used for learning
  3. Collaboration where departmental thinking is challenged to tackle systemic problems with some structural norms of intent
  4. Refining products and services constantly to address cultural diversity and customer variance
  5. Envisaging the future business and how Design is integrated through leadership, culture, product and process, and branding and marketing.

Next Steps

These principles, when endorsed by leadership, support the cultural development required to deliver Design-driven Innovation. Yet, great things don’t happen in silos and there needs to be a mandate, which might be found by asking yourself, “What is the most important unanswered question standing in the way of business success?”

Avoid answering straight away – first, gather the team together. Use Design Thinking if able or inquire without devising a solution until there is clarity in the room. Think systemically – the group threads and make connections as the inputs are synthesised. You will know when you have nailed it, as heads will ache and there will be resounding agreement.

Prioritisation will be key, as will be selecting Project #1, especially if the process of Design is new to everyone. The role of prioritisation cannot be over emphasised, as you may wish to develop a tool with this sole purpose in mind. Congratulations, you have now begun a Design Journey with a capital ‘D’ by pausing for a moment.