Everyone has heard people quarrelling. Sometimes it sounds funny. And sometimes it sounds merely unpleasant; but however it sounds, I believe we can learn something very important from listening to the kind of things they say. CS Lewis
I’ve sometimes overheard arguments between designers and people who run companies. Sometimes the business people say this kind of thing:
I’m a business guy, not an arty type.
I’ve got a business to run, I haven’t got time for that stuff.
We’re not that kind of company.
It’s a good challenge. If you are running, or working in, a business why should you care about design?
Look around you
I appreciate that you are very busy, but please indulge me for just a moment. Please stop reading this blog. Lift your eyes. And look around you, really carefully. What do you see?
Can you see anything, anything at all, that isn’t made, shaped or crafted by mankind? I’d be surprised if you can see much that isn’t. If anything.
Look again. Whether what you see is an electronic device, a piece of clothing, a mug, a seat on a bus, a piece of office furniture, a lamppost, a carpet, or the exact location of a plant pot, paving stone or shelf, someone put it there. And someone produced it. That is to say, it has been designed by someone.
Consciously. Or unconsciously. Professionally or by an amateur. Well or badly. Everything that surrounds us has been designed.
Innovate UK helps companies to develop new products, services or processes. As I write, we are supporting about 1,500 companies. Every single one of them will be designing something new. Some of them very deliberately and carefully. Some of them will be focussing their attention on developing and commercialising new technology, and will be completely unaware that they are designing anything at all.
Technology only creates supply
We work with the most amazing companies and technology innovators. Every day we see new technologies that open up new possibilities; new ways of doing things; new things that can be done. And every day we meet companies developing these technologies into new products, services or processes.
But technology only creates supply.
Technology can provide the wherewithal to do something. To communicate across great distances. To travel faster or in more comfort. To power our homes more efficiently. To produce more food per acre cultivated. To cure disease.
It is people who create demand
It is people who live in those homes and turn the power on. Or get into that vehicle. Or eat that meal. Or phone their great aunts in Australia. Or are afflicted with that ailment.
So, for technology to be successfully commercialised, it must be accepted and desired by people. The users, or customers. And their acceptance is signalled by their willingness to pay for it.
The great designer Sebastian Conran once said to me “design is one of the things that makes technology successful”. He was, or course, right.
Design is one of the things that allows technology innovators to put people at the heart of their innovations. It is a process that allows you to connect the feelings, experiences, aspirations, expectations, urgency, habits and budgets of people to the products, processes or services you are developing. If you are designing a kitchen knife, people call it product design. If you are designing an App, or something else in the digital domain, people call it UX. In both cases you need to create the best possible ‘experience’ for the user, since this is what drives uptake and commercial success. But it’s all design.
We are trying to encourage companies to think about excellent design earlier in their innovation work. This is likely to result in better, more commercially successful, products, services or processes; and to achieve that more efficiently. Our approach is laid out in our Design In Innovation Strategy.
What design seeks to achieve varies enormously. For some customers, it’s functionality. For some customers, it’s speed. For some customers, it’s beauty. For some customers, it’s novelty. For some, it’s ease of use. And so on. In reality, it is a combination of all of these, in a delicate balance.
Supply. And demand.
The reason that design is so important is that, by coupling people to technology, design is, in effect, linking demand and supply. And there is no business in the world that survives over the longer term unless they get the supply and demand balance right. If done well, design increases demand and enhances value – and which business wouldn’t want that? It’s not about being ‘arty’. It’s about deploying a structured process that can really improve business outcomes.
So, if you are innovating, you are doing design, whether you are aware of it or not.
And, in a competitive world, where supply meets demand, it will be the best design that wins.
So, you can get good at it. Or leave it to chance. The choice is yours.
More on design at Innovate 2017
We’ll be talking more about design on the Main Stage at Innovate 2017, in Birmingham, on Wednesday 8th November .
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