Sunday, 26 June 2011

Design Council Summit – 10 Design Lessons for Attaining Business Success

The Design Council Design Summit
discussion of design best practice
Last week the Design Council’s ‘Design Summit’ brought together by former Chairman, Lord Michael Bichard and Chief Executive, David Kester, outlined some of the lessons of good design cultures. 

Figures such as Jonathan Ive, Senior VP Industrial Design, Apple, referred to as 'the most successful designer on the planet'; Dr Ralph Speth, CEO luxury car producer, Jaguar Land Rover; author, broadcaster and designer, Kevin McCloud; together with design gurus Ian Callum, Design Director Jaguar, and Gerry McGovern Design Director Land Rover; formed part of a line up assembling world-leading figures from architecture and design.

Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts MP, and Minister for Business and Enterprise, Mark Prisk MP, provided insights on government thinking around design and its contribution to competitiveness. 

Mark Prisk’s intention to highlight great British design during the Olympics next year through showcasing design excellence was warmly received.  Especially so, when the Minister signalled his intention that other parts of the country, and not simply London, would benefit from this investment.

This is a summary of the 10 top design lessons for business success which I took from the day.

1)      Design underpins everything in the value creation process. This can be summarised as people, processes, products, services and sustainable approaches through R&D, production, training, recruitment, marketing, sales and after-care, all making up a design-led culture. Design is integral, not applied. It is not about ‘flower arranging’, or some form of styling at the end of the process – it is central to corporate growth and success. 

2)      Culture and values really do make a difference.  It was stressed through the day that the best businesses thought deeply about their goals.  For these businesses it seems their core goals are not about making money, but are rather more assertions about reaching clearly stated aims – such as ‘producing the best products they can’.  Clarity of focus is essential to ensure that resources are devoted to areas that really matter.  Pride in what they do leads to a culture valuing this activity.  Making money flows from teams doing what they believe in and doing it to the best of their ability.  

FT journalist, John Kay, has attached the label, ‘Obliquity’, to this phenomenon.  He states, “the most profitable companies are not the most targets are the type of goals often best achieved when pursued indirectly....Oblique approaches are most effective in difficult terrain, or where outcomes depend on interactions with other people. (It) is characteristic of systems that are complex, imperfectly understood, and change their nature as we engage with them..... Outstanding success is the product of obliquity.

3)      Manufacturing really matters.  Even the most advanced businesses in the world continue to generate great value from the way their products are made.  This is a core part of the value creation process, not something remote or commodity-based.  Grappling with new processes, technologies, materials and service integration are a key part of what these businesses are doing. The way things are made is at the heart of their design processes.

4)      Working in creative cultures is critical. Creative cultures remain curious.  They are keen to learn. They value innovation, but innovation doesn’t come about without some failures, so they recognise that failure is part of the process.  Hand-in-hand with this they recognise the need to end projects which may be acceptable, may even have some merit, but may simply not be great.  Creative cultures demand courage and commitment to developing the very best products and services they can.    

5)      Leadership of creative companies flows from working in an integrated team. Time and again during the day leaders stressed the relevance of bringing together teams with different skills and keeping them together throughout projects, whether within design disciplines or across engineering, technology and business.   Multi-disciplinary skills and approaches were adding new value and required a steady stream of high quality people trained appropriately with new skills and an appreciation of how to work together with other disciplines. As Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator, New York Museum of Modern Art, has said, “In (future) designers will be at the nexus of things. They will not be divvied up according to their reductive specialty (graphic, product, furniture...). Theoretical designers will be exquisite generalists, but ready to roll up their sleeves.”

6)      Design’s contribution to leadership is not always obvious or tangible.  There are some important contributions that design can make to the leadership of a company, but they are not always obvious.  You have to be comfortable with attributes which are not tangible.  People are much more comfortable talking about attributes which they can evaluate with a number.  These ‘easy conversations’ can take up oxygen and simply not be that important.  It is important, however, to realise that there is an aspect to design that is centred around intangibles that needs to be taken seriously. 

This feature was recognised in Design Council's report, 'Design in the Knowledge Economy 2020', produced in partnership with Will Hutton of  the Work Foundation.  The report acknowledges   the 'amazing inversion' that has taken place in company investment. "Economists differentiate between investment in tangible assets – plant, machinery and buildings – and intangible assets. Researching new products; building up a company’s reputation; investing in human skills; design; computer software and even investment in management and leadership all count as intangibles. Back in 1970 companies’ investment in intangibles was 40% of their investment in tangibles. Today it has trebled."

7)      Ideas can be fiercely powerful but driving development can be fragile.  Creative cultures recognise the disruptive and creative potential of ideas and support their development.  They recognise that new ideas can be difficult to evaluate simply because there are no precedents, making business models difficult to define and create, but they are prepared to support the unseen depth in invention sitting behind successful ideas.   

8)      Great design education is a prerequisite to industrial and commercial success.  The very best business people have a genuine familiarity with the design process, either through some form of formal education or learned by working with the design process over years.  For educators the challenge looking ahead is about training designers who can embrace business, finance, engineering and technology with confidence and fluency.

9)      The world is changing rapidly and designers are having to take on board substantial paradigm shifts.  These include the need for sustainable solutions, healthy living and ageing populations in developed economies together with population growth more generally.  In auto markets, where previously the field of players had been contracting, they are now proliferating; multiple technological solutions are opening up where formerly one had been the accepted norm; changing consumer habits, for example resulting from ‘connectivity’ are now the catchword for a whole generation.

10)   Design is about delivering great experience. Designing emotional connection, supported by technologies, processes, innovations, ultimately delivering great experience, requires a more in-depth understanding of users around the world and their different cultures, values and ethos.   David Willetts highlighted the growing importance of design-sensitive consumers coming out of higher education and their enhanced expectations from products and services. Ideas of luxury differ in different places and personal time is a luxury commodity with experiences, not possessions, increasingly enhancing quality of life. 

The views expressed are those of the author alone. 
Beverley Nielsen is Director Employer Engagement, Birmingham City University.
Jonathan Ive:
Ian Callum, 2011 New York Auto Show:
Gerry McGovern and Land Rover Range Rover Evoque:

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