The importance of design methodologies like design thinking and service design is growing in management and product planning, and Japanese companies are keeping pace with this trend. So, what kind of merits are gained by incorporating design into management? And what is the role of “design” that I mean here?
I gave the opening speech at DESIGN for Innovation, a Tokyo conference to learn new business strategies that incorporate design into management. This concept is the bedrock underlying our services and vision at btrax.
The Shifting Role of Design
The meaning of the word “design” varies depending on the industry and role, and that role changes over time in business, with its range of applications undergoing change along with it. But design is not just used to create aesthetically pleasing things, rather and especially in recent years, it’s being used as a mindset, as typified by design thinking.
I’ll start off this article by showing you what kind of design is most commonly found in business and management, and the influence it has. Then I’ll go deeper, thinking about three different designs (design, Design, and DESIGN), and their features and influences.
design → Design → DESIGN
Perhaps “design,” the first type we’ll look at, is what most people think of when they hear the word. It involves pursuing the pleasing appearance of something. This design is about delivering good looking products and/or services. The following are examples of areas using “design”:
- Graphic design
- Industrial design
- Advertisement design
- Representative design
These types of design are:
- For specific users
- Complete when submitted and not constantly updated or edited
- The work of artists and craftsman
The target customer persona is assumed in this kind of design, and a “perfected” final product is strived for as much as possible. For example, candy packaging is designed for specific users, just as the design of a car assumes a specific audience. Of course, defining the target customer and designing for them is important in advertising as well.
The primary objective of “design” is to be complete and perfect; being 1 mm off or getting a shade of color wrong is intolerable. Naturally, it is important that these designers work with impeccable attention to detail, making it a very expert production.
“Design” is a relatively new area of design born out of the development of the Internet, mobile, and digital media. Some “Design” areas include:
- Web design
- UI design
- Digital content
If we compare the practice and result of “Design” to “design,” the differences are clear:
- For unspecified users
- Improvement continues after completion
- The work evolves
What does this mean? Because of the nature of the Internet and digital media, it is hard to predict when, where, how, and by whom the product or design will be used. The possibility of multiple users en masse increases exponentially in Design. As a result, it is more important to design for usability than for perfection in Design.
A website is accessible anywhere in the world, and from many kinds of devices such as PC, Mobile, Tablet, and so on. As such, considering the sizes, resolutions, screen types, and more, it is almost impossible to deliver a “perfect” design without variation. Rather, the priority of Design is to create a user-friendly experience.
And the work doesn’t end once the design is completed. The design needs to be updated as technology and devices evolve, and with this, the work of the designer evolves too: they need to have the latest technology and knowledge. This is a shift from the artisanal designer to an evolutionary one.
“DESIGN” is the kind of design most talked about on the West Coast. It is also the kind of design people mean when they say the word design because of its huge range of applications. Naturally, its role has grown significantly as well. This type of design is directly linked to management and product planning and includes:
- Service design
- UX design
- Design thinking
For this broad realm:
- User selection is key
- Work begins after release of the design
- Business and design are fused
For DESIGN, user selection is very important and is the primary goal, rather than a business or company goal. Therefore, a user-centered way of thinking to understand what kind of users there will be/are and what needs they have is essential.
Products, services, and experiences are designed for the target user, and become more important to the business after its release, as opposed to “design,” where the product is completed and permanently finished. Take the iPhone, for example, iOS is updated periodically even after purchasing a device and continues to provide value to users. Tesla’s Connected Car is created and DESIGNed with the same concept as well.
Since the ultimate goal of DESIGN is to contribute to the business, the aim is to integrate the two well, create with a designer-like sense of management, and provide a better experience for users. By doing so, it helps the company grow. This approach is what Apple has explicitly specialized in from the start.
Example of Design’s Shifting Role
I’ll next use mobile phones as an example to show you more clearly how the role of design has changed today. To show you just how far we’ve come in such a short time, here’s a picture of what mobile phones looked like just 10 years ago.
Consider the design in this image and the role of the designer. First of all, the phones vary greatly by color and shape, each having its own characteristics: size, thickness, weight, material, screen size, and so on. For each product, you can see designs that look more attractive than their competitors and measures to differentiate them with features or specifications.
In other words, in order to adopt more users, products are designed to match differing preferences. This kind of design is the first one discussed, “design,” and its focus is on the “product itself”.
We all know what phones look like today.
This is an idealized depiction of smartphone use, making it look very appealing; the smartphone itself is involved in the scene, but the focus is on the user(s). The charm is not the product itself but the lifestyle and experience it provides, the product itself being just a tool for enabling that lifestyle and those experiences the user desires. This kind of charm and added value couldn’t be achieved if the focus was purely on the product’s aesthetic features.
Users’ interests have changed from what the product looks like and what specifications it has to what kinds of experiences it enables. This is also a major factor that has changed consumer thinking style as typified by the Millennial generation, which emphasizes experiences more than material things, and the commodification of products due to the rate of technological aging.
What differentiates brands now is not function or performance so much as the experiences they enable. In this way, planning the product by involving design thinking in the process becomes essential to companies.
The Conflict Between Business and Design Ways of Thinking
Using design, Design, or DESIGN in business is easier said than done. Business and management rely on a logic that is quite different from that of design.
The most important thing is the final results, such as sales or profit, which tends to ignore the means. Departments and companies gather results collectively and are evaluated, but the processes behind the results are rarely questioned.
In company strategy, the focus is on producing results, and the most rational judgment possible is made based on the current conditions of the company, such as eliminating waste or focusing on more highly profitable endeavors.
The most important thing when thinking about planning any business move is data. Namely: creating business plans and income and expenditure forecasts based on historical data. Without this logic, it is impossible to establish a strategy.
In design thinking, the emphasis is placed on the process rather than the final result. This is to ensure a better product by learning how the current iteration was arrived at, even for results that were not forecasted.
Design should always put the user first. As a corporation, it is common to think about business in terms of profit or technological development first, but if the product is not wanted by users, it will not lead to long-term growth.
Create a Future
If the business way of thinking is strategic and based on data from the past, then the value of design is in its ability to create an unseen future. It is the work of design to think about and create products and services that will be needed in the future from the perspective of the world and users’ needs.
In this way, business thinking and design thinking differ drastically. However, by balancing the two disciplines, the possibilities of business growth are multiplied.
Six Steps to Integrate Design into Management
So, how do we fuse design and business together? The following are the six steps btrax provides to its clients.
1. Opportunity: Find Markets and Users
The first step begins with finding the needs of the market and its users. It is possible to establish a design business by considering both the market opportunity and product needs based on what users will ask for in the future.
The way of thinking must be adjusted too. A reframing method must be utilized to change the way people in the business think to accommodate this design methodology.
Next comes the actual idea making process for products and services, and ideas must be acquired from the perspective of the users.
4. Idea Validation
Will the idea actually be accepted by users? In order to find out, mockups and prototypes must be created and real users must try them out. The important thing here is to do a test focused on the user’s perspective, and avoid inserting one’s own hypotheses and assumptions. Unconscious assumptions that fit in with the business management theory can sometimes seep through, but ultimately the user knows what they want and must be worked with to understand the kind of product that should be made.
5. Market Entry
If it is vetted by the user testing results, produce the product(s) and launch them into the market. In addition to existing release methods, you can also consider using new types of marketing channels such as crowdfunding. The priority here is verification rather than selling – how much can it be accepted into the market. If you acquire feedback from users, you can constantly improve product offerings.
6. Expansion & Growth
At the point where you are able to gain favorable feedback from users and become profitable as a business, your business can then be expanded and grow. If possible, this can be done on a global scale. For specific users and products for niche needs, deployment on a global scale becomes important since the domestic market may be too small for significant profit, thus success can be compounded at a global scale.
DESIGN → DE$IGN
Throughout this article I’ve shown how business and design are conceptually different from one another, but by integrating them well, products that are optimally designed from the user’s point of view can find acceptance in the market, making it possible to profit greatly from them. In today’s society with its advanced technology, incorporating DESIGN elements, especially in management, will be a major factor for differentiating one’s business from competitors. Get in touch with us if you’re ready to take that next step to integrate business, design, and DESIGN.