11 December 2019
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Good design is good business

Claire Osman
6 September 2019

One thing that businesses, both big and small, are always seeking these days is innovation. It’s no longer enough to simply deliver a product with a smile, companies are now trying to anticipate every customer’s need and emotion and control their overall experience.

A tool that has come to the forefront in the business world is design-thinking.

The modern-day godfather of design-thinking is David Kelley, founder of IDEO (an international design consultancy that uses design-thinking to problem solve in collaboration with the likes of Apple, Braun, Google, Samsung and so many more). “The main tenet of design thinking is empathy for the people you’re trying to design for,” Kelley says.

The process itself involves: empathizing with customers, defining the problems the customer faces, ideating new solutions, prototyping what these new solutions might be and then testing this on the customer to find results.

The AirBnB experience

This focus on design is quite obvious across the most successful businesses in the world, for example, AirBnB, which was founded by two designers, Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky. In their first year, the business was beginning to fail as people weren’t booking stays or utilising the service. The two founders used their experience in design-thinking to come up with a creative solution to improve their customers’ experience. They ended up flying out to the accommodation venues and taking professional photos of each venue to highlight the features and amenities, which was a considerable improvement from the dark, drab phone photography it had replaced. This solution was a completely unscalable and unsustainable solution but it worked. By setting a new standard for users promoting their accommodation and by inspiring more customers with quality photos, the business trajectory completely turned around.

The IBM story

IBM, known for their ‘good design is good business’ motto, has invested over $100million in building a design-thinking platform for clients and employees alike. According to the data, their design-thinking platform has helped users increase their productivity by 75% and double their speed of project execution. “Design is everyone’s job,” says Phil Gilbert, GM of IBM Design, “Not everyone is a designer but everybody has to have the user as their north star.”

IKEA’s desire to democratize design

Another company whose business obviously relates to design is Ikea. IKEA’s primary motivation is to ‘democratize design,’ by making people’s homes and spaces enjoyable, whilst keeping their products accessible and affordable. Ikea has taken this model one step further by putting design-thinking into practice at its “Space 10 Innovation Lab” in Denmark, which combines the powers of designers, engineers, chefs, creatives to solve the future problems of urban living. They’ve even reinvented their famous meatball to address the issues of over farming and meat production, using new technologies such as 3D printing to make the meatballs.

Virgin’s flat beds & wi-fi

Virgin is also no stranger to innovation, delivering the first flat-bed seats for long haul flights and the first inflight wi-fi. “While it’s true that every company needs an entrepreneur to get it under way, healthy growth requires a smattering of intrapreneurs who drive new projects and explore new and unexpected directions for business development,” Richard Branson said about the process.

This idea that ‘it’s all been done before’ is starting to slip out of the vernacular, as we are more frequently confronted with new problems and new considerations for the future. These new problems are going to require new solutions, which is where design-thinking will come into play. Businesses will look to this global movement of design-thinking to begin to tip-toe towards innovation and it will be interesting to see what businesses can design for our future…

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