Apple, Airbnb, Dyson… These are a few examples of companies that place design at the heart of their business. Needless to say, they are pretty successful — and have attracted exceptionally loyal customers. According to consultant group McKinsey, design-led companies have 32% more revenue and 56% higher total returns to shareholders compared with other companies. Business really loves design.
Often, however, companies have a rather superficial understanding of design, focusing on aesthetics and form: the colours, shapes and finishing touches of the products or services they offer. Or they have taken the next step and adopted a service design attitude, which encompasses end-to-end user experiences too. But we want more!
At Aalto University, we’re approaching design in a holistic way, and we want to encourage companies to see design as something that infuses everything. The true power of design lies in the fact that it can transform your entire company.
Your whole business ecosystem and every step of the value chain is crucial — from raw material choices, logistics and retail options to visual communication and branding. The trick is to see opportunities for design interventions at each stage. With creative design methods, we can discover surprising, hidden assets as well as recognize the challenges that need to be resolved.
How to get started?
One approach is to start designing out harmful parts of your product or service and its supply chain — waste, surplus or processes that have a negative impact on the environment or on people. It’s important to be aware of the whole lifecycle: where is your product originating from and where is it ending up? Instead of creating products that eventually end up in a landfill, we have to start designing products that remain in use for as long as possible. The same goes for immaterial services, it’s important to know what the exact implications of your activities are on the world around you.
Another design approach focuses on building new strengths. Design methods can be used in many different ways: to develop new, sustainable raw materials, to enhance overall resilience, to innovate new business models, to influence consumer behavior… the list goes on.
Design is also one of the best driving forces for innovation. When design principles and methodology are applied to the core of business strategy, the success rate for innovation dramatically improves. Why? Because design is a never-ending aspiration to create for the benefit of the user. Design strives for a deep understanding of functions, experiences and interactions. Holistic design means looking beyond a single product and a single user and instead creating a bigger system that is in relationship with the needs of people, the surrounding community and the environment. This gives your business a competitive advantage.
All companies want to create products and services that cannot be copied. Design is a way to communicate uniqueness and express empathy for users, customers and their world. Design is not just about shapes, colours and catchy descriptions, it’s about truly long-lasting, sustainable business
Sini Koskimies, Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture