Harnessing the Power of Design to Rewire Businesses

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

Design has always been an inspiring force to be reckoned with, influencing every element of our lives from the arts and architecture, to fashion and gaming. However, what if the power of design and design logic could be harnessed to rewire the very heart of businesses?

Moving beyond aesthetics, the emergent field of Business Design is a way of applying Design Thinking to business strategy and organisational problems. It’s a hybrid approach to problem solving and strategy, centred on the human experience. When applied to a business context, design enables organisations to dig deep, examine their purpose as well as explore pragmatic solutions.

Organisations typically struggle for two reasons. The first is where the goals and the purpose are almost so all-encompassing and massive that they become an impediment to progress – they’re too ingrained and can really slow down progress. The other reasons is when your sole measures of success are profitability and growth, focussing primarily on operational excellence and shareholder value.

Business Design as a concept attempts to bridge the gap between these two extremes, enabling an organisation to adopt the pros of both approaches and therefore create a more focussed and balanced business strategy. This will equip businesses with the capability to meet their profitability needs but also deliver against their purpose, taking it beyond purely financial objectives.

Some might perceive Business Design as a means to cut costs by finding smart areas to make economies, but while that can be one possible outcome, it’s not the full game. Business Design attempts to help companies be more than just the numbers in their filings, and not shy away from goals, ideals and principles. It helps businesses to find the harmonious balance between business and human needs.

An example of an organisation recognising the importance of Business Design as a critical strategy is Commerzbank. Observing the gap opening up between the type of the experience they offered consumers and the ones that customers had expected in the age of connected services and digital communications, they prioritised user experience, establishing an in-house design team to take the task on. Their ambition? To become the world’s most customer-friendly bank. By placing its consumers first across every element of its organisation, they’re well on the way to being a ‘customer-friendly’ bank. This push also catalyses the wider organisation, showing a real sense of purpose towards a mission of being more for the people it serves.

Companies are no longer defined by their heritage and longevity – companies tend now to last for years rather than decades. To manage this, everyone needs a strong future-proof strategy or risk managed decline or rapid disruption from the ever-growing army of startups. Early leaders are turning to Business Design to get there.

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 on offer. When a customer goes into a home improvement store, they don’t simply want a quick solution or product; they’re after 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 that can iterate and build a roadmap, securing its future, as well as give a sense of purpose to the wider organisation.  

When we envisage the most obvious candidates who adopt design thinking, we think of consumer brands, ones that we engage with on a daily basis. Consumer-facing companies naturally tailor their strategy and approach to their customers; their core focus. However, as Business Design grows to become a key trend in the traditionally-minded B2B sector, they will have to strive to stand out and be recognised for their customer-first business approach.

The value of Business Design can be complex to illustrate, but it can be done. For example, when developing a new application or tweak to an existing proposition, use it as an opportunity to trial design thinking. Test a new team and encourage them to go beyond what’s expected and measure the work that emerges out of that. If the quality improves, then the value of Business Design is unquestionable.

That’s not to say we should replace traditional approaches altogether. We just have to blend and hybridise, finding ways to achieve purpose as well as profit: Business Design is a methodology that can be utilised by all forms of enterprise to encourage and future-proof organisations.