Dash Talks hosted the event “Design + Business” where three professional business designers came to speak about the challenges and value of design thinking in the world of business. Hanne Nissinen from OP, Jaakko Luomaranta from Palmu/Solita, and Petteri Kolinen from Design Forum Finland came to share their personal journeys and observations of not only how the design thinking movement has impacted modern business development, but also where they envision it leading businesses into the future. Although they each had unique stories and insights to share, there were some overlapping themes that manifested in all three presentations.
In the book “Design Thinking for Strategic Innovation” by Idris Mootee, the author explores using design thinking as an unorthodox approach to disrupting the current linear processes of business model and strategy creation and execution. He also explores the differences in the business model (how business value is monetized), business strategy (branding, relevance, and futures thinking) and how design thinking when spread throughout an entire organization has the potential to keep businesses connected, competitive and malleable in order to keep up with a world that is undergoing an increasingly rapid transformation and progression into uncharted territories.
Despite the excitement over this new palette for design thinking in the realm of business design, the first big challenge that all three speakers touched on was the novelty of design thinking as a major influence in business planning. Service design in services has been around the block a bit longer than design in business, and there are not yet common established frameworks unifying the application of design thinking in business scenarios. Hanna and Jaakko illustrated examples of how, due to a lack of solid definition of the process of business design, this can make some businesses wary of adapting business design as new mindset, method of operation, and vehicle for innovation.
Which leads to the next substantial hurdle of the resistance of established companies to the drastic structural and operational changes inspired by design thinking. The older, more established, and successful a company is, the less receptive they will be to drastic organizational and cultural change. It is the job of the designer to be the leader in a shift towards design thinking and laying the foundation for multidisciplinary interactions that break down the walls of the traditional isolated silo style way of working; starting at the top with the CEO and upper management (this is key) and rapidly spreading across the entire organizational structure.
Hanna shared a list of challenges faced by business designers at OP that I think could apply to any business designer shaking up company culture for the first time with new design thinking inspired ideas to take into consideration:
She also spoke about some good qualities a business designer should have when working with a company new to design thinking:
- proactivity (in finding/creating projects)
- the ability to successfully pitch your idea
- successful cases (to prove it works)
- the ability to not be overly discouraged by failure (we all know this will happen)
- the courage to be different
Most importantly, she said that the most important element that is needed between the service designer and upper management is trust.
One of the other challenges I would like to touch on that all three speakers mentioned was the difficulty of finding people qualified to hire as business designers. Yes, a business designer is a design thinking professional, however according to the speakers at this event, businesses are often looking to find candidates who also have a business background and are willing to find ways to combine both quantitative and qualitative methods to gain better consumer and business insights. They spoke about looking for a special combination of talent profiles, and each business was looking for a slightly different combination of design and business skill. The one thing all three speakers agreed on was that the most important attribute in a potential candidate is creativity and positivity.
Another challenge that was presented was the balancing act between what is best for the user and what is best for the business. Although this was not explored in depth during the talks, this is something that I would like to research further on my own as it is an interesting concept for me to personally explore in my own work.
To end this section, I would like to mention a podcast that Jaakko highlighted called “Beyond Users” aimed at merging design thinkers with the world of business. Here is the first episode in the podcast series (featuring Trent Huon from IDEO Munich) that explores the role of business in design and why it is important for designers to not forget about the importance of the business they are designing for in their designs:
“Change is the law of life and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” —John F. Kennedy
The last speaker, Petteri, spoke about the positive effects that design thinking can have on a business. To a business that is open to fully embrace the concept, it has the power to incite change at the very core of a business identity, value system, and culture. Critical application of design thinking within a business can challenge long standing traditions and viewpoints forcing a business to not be complacent with past or present successes, but to focus on the future. The application of design thinking to business models and strategy plans can enhance value co-creation and establish a holistic brand experience with their users.
One report that all three speakers spoke about was “The New Design Frontier” report by InVision. This report is “An industry-spanning report that redefines design maturity today. InVisionsurveyed thousands of companies to explore the relationship between design practices and business performance”. One of the main discoveries is that currently only very small percentage (5%!) of companies are using design thinking to maximum advantage. Roughly 41% of companies surveyed “have significant room to grow”.
InVision created the “Design Maturity Model” to highlight the disparity between companies that have embraced design thinking, and those that have not:
If you would like to read the report in its entirety and get more details about each of the levels visualized in this model, I urge you to read the full report published on the InVision site:
In order to keep moving forward and be adaptable, I believe it is necessary for businesses to rethink the way they operate and innovate with the assistance of design thinking.
The resistance to change in large companies is something I understand and encounter in my own work. It is good to keep this in mind as I move forward and to remember the strategies suggested in this talk should I ever be placed in the situation of being the person trying to bring drastic change. On a smaller scale, I challenge myself to remain open to changes and adjustments to old working habits when someone presents a good idea that shakes things up in the workplace, and not resist change just because I am comfortable. Things may be currently working well, but you will never know if it is possible for them to be better if you don’t let yourself remain open to change.
While this transition period (from traditional business structures to design influenced structures) can be a scary time for some, I find this time of change and uncertainty (uncertainty is not always bad) to be exciting to watch unfold. The ball is in the court of the business designers to prove the efficacy of design thinking on business organizations, and only time will tell how this great experiment will turn out.
“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.” —Niccolo Machiavelli
Written By: Johanna Johnson
Mootee, Idris (2013) Design Thinking for Strategic Innovation: What They Can’t Teach You at Business or Design School. Wiley.
Faljic, A. (Host) Beyond Users #1 Trent Huon @IDEO: Not thinking about business is bad design [Audio Podcast]. Retrieved from https://www.beyondusers.com/podcast/trent-huon
Buley, L., Avore, C., Gates, S., Gonzalez, S., Goodman, R., Walter, A. (2019). The New Design Frontier. Retrieved from DesignBetter by Invision website: https://www.invisionapp.com/design-better/design-maturity-model/