A Blog by Jonathan Low

 

May 30, 2016

How Design Became the Driver of Innovation

Technology companies recognized that design was not just about how something looked, but how the customer interacted with it. And that could provide a competitive advantage in an industry where many other atttempts at differentiation are hard for consumers to distinguish. JL

Falguni Desai comments in Forbes:

Design has become a critical weapon on the competitive battlefield. There is a focus on customer-experience across all sectors and it fundamentally changes the established product and service categories. A well-designed, enjoyable and remarkable customer experience can mean the difference between a loyal advocate for a company’s brand or a diminishing customer base.  Established companies compete by providing something better, faster and smarter.

When people speak about design, they think about the visual form, aesthetics and style. For decades, designers have been celebrated by the artistic community and found their home in fashion houses and advertising agencies. But in recent years, there has been a shift. The business world has awoken to design principles and today, design has become a core element in innovation processes.  Business consultancies are now at the forefront in bringing this capability to their corporate clients.
But why now?  What changed in the last decade? Why is design suddenly the hot, new buzzword among the digerati?
Designers would argue that design was never just about the stylistic or the artistic, but that design was always equal parts form and function, a creative process that negotiated between constraints and objectives.  It was society that forgot this and emphasized only one side.
Perhaps it is the proliferation of devices, apps and interactive media that is now forcing people to understand and experience the value of good design.  Even when a product looks good, a confusing process, too many clicks to get to the right webpage or an uncomfortable shape, exposes design flaws.  There is something innately human about good design. Customers may not be able to articulate what exactly is missing or where the design went wrong, but they know what feels right and what doesn’t.
Another driving factor has been the low cost for startups to create digital products and compete with larger firms.  Design has become a critical weapon on the competitive battlefield. Mikal Hallstrup, CEO and Founder of Designit, which was acquired by Wipro Digital, explains, “There is an extreme focus on customer-experience across all sectors, both public and private.  It is turning old industries upside down and it fundamentally changes the established product and service categories.”  For a business, a well-designed, enjoyable and remarkable customer experience can mean the difference between a loyal advocate for a company’s brand or a diminishing customer base.  Established companies need to redefine and compete by providing something better, faster and smarter.
With the emphasis on design and customer experience growing, large companies are hiring Chief Design Officers and also working with design firms to incorporate the best thinking and expertise as they launch innovation initiatives.  Baiju Shah, Co-Lead at Fjord and Managing Director of Accenture Interactive explains, “Design brings empathy with users and a quest for the truth, but it also acts as a strategic compass to help these executives understand what’s a threat, what’s a sustainable opportunity, and how to reorient their businesses.”  While this sounds simple, it requires a shift in mindset, not just for product managers and service teams, but for executive management and the C-suite.  Large companies have recognized brands, worldwide presence and significant assets at their disposal, but their size and scale make them slow to change and sometimes disconnected from the end consumer.  Hallstrup adds, “The bigger you get the more you want to innovate like a small startup. Design teams and design firms think and work like startups.” Design led innovation avoids the aimless brainstorming session or the sacred cow project being handed down from above and instead allows companies to reconnect with their customers and allocate their resources where they can have the biggest impact. Ultimately better design translates into revenues and profits.
Companies who engage in such projects for the first time are surprised by the depth of research and multiple voices that contribute to finding a solution.  In working with design consultancies, sometimes clients walk in thinking they will be presented with an advertising style pitch for a better marketing or media strategy.  But this isn’t case, as Fjord Founder and Co-Lead, Olof Schybergson explains,  “Design is not about one person coming up with the grand answer, but rather a discipline that studies customer behavior, involving many different perspectives, inputs and observations to create a solution that’s intuitive and engaging and really meets the needs people have.” First-time clients are blown away by the collaborative and sophisticated approach which not only improves customer relationships but also brings employees together in a common pursuit.
And perhaps that is the design world’s most importance contribution to innovation.  Design, by its very nature, creates a culture that is obsessed with the customer, willing to listen and learn from multiple vantage points, ignoring hierarchies and experimenting until it finds the best answer.
Anything that begets this type of change in a corporate setting has got to be a winner.

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