If the nifty ticking clock on our homepage didn’t already give it away, we have taken on a bit of a pet project this year of spreading the word about the boost businesses can get from investing in design.
Our Docklands office was a hive of activity over the weekend when we played our part in Melbourne International Design Week by gathering together business owners, startups, designers and anyone else who was interested to preach a radical new business management concept we like to call ‘Invest in Design’. This concept simply means that the design function of any business or startup should be considered as equally important as other functions such as marketing and budgeting, and it has the power to set your business on the path to great success. Steve Jobs, Ron Conway and Mark Zuckerberg have all drilled into us the importance of focusing on great design when building a successful business, and we have made it our mission to broadcast this message to the masses because you don’t have to be a business virtuoso to make it work for you.
> What is Good Design?
There is a widespread misconception that great designs need to be formulated from the most radical technology to shock and amaze consumers. In fact, good designs have more to do with engaging consumers on an emotion level than they do with being a flashy new toy. Products that meet a high standard for design are those that:
• Take a people-centred approach to development • Use design to communicate their unique value • Solidify the business’ cultural values, beliefs, vision and mission • Offer a solution to consumers that is simple to understand • Deliver a great user experience
The best rule of thumb is that you’ll know great design when you see it, because they are the designs that seem as though they haven’t been designed at all.
> Achieving Good Design
Design is often relegated to the outskirts of business strategies, so design-led thinking will go against the grain for most business people. To invest the right amount of time and energy into design, you need to understand the intricacies of design and how they can be used to your advantage.
Show Empathy Designers are admired for their ability to look at a project like a blank canvas that is not tainted by assumptions about their audience. Using their knack for empathy, designers obtain a deep understanding of who their audience is and what they are looking for. Thinking with empathy means that you will see customers less as a target market defined by age, gender or income, and more as real people with real problems that need to be solved. When the needs of the audience are made the first priority, customers will immediately recognise the value of your product or service because it has been developed to offer a solution to a genuine problem.
Unleash Your Imagination
Instead of thinking within the constraints of profit margins and distribution mapping, design lets your mind run free and gives you permission to think outside the box. By thinking like a creator rather than a target-hitter, you will be able to come up with fresh ideas that no one has thought of before that are an ideal fit for the problem you are trying to solve. You might find a way to tweak products or services that are already available on the market, or top this by coming up with something innovative that people can get excited about.
Take a Collaborative Approach Innovation and development in businesses is traditionally tackled using a waterfall approach, whereby a product or service is passed down sequentially from business developers to designers to marketers and so on. This means that each team is denied input into other areas of development, which leads to a disjointed product that is not created from a clear and united vision. When creative minds are invited to the conference table with other members of the business for a collaborative creative session, the full power of design can be realised because it becomes culturally integrated into the development process. Everyone will then have a clear understanding of both the business strategy and design vision, and together you can work towards a solution that satisfies all the requirements. But it is important to remember that communication is the key to collaboration, and creative sessions will be much more productive if designers learn some basic business terms to use in their pitch, and business people understand that a story or image can be informative enough to base a decision upon.
> Benefits of Good Design
It is not an exaggeration to say that design has the power to transform businesses, but to reap the rewards you must first recognise that design is valuable. Communicating the value of design can be difficult, but understanding the returns you can expect from investing in design goes a long way in quashing the idea that it is an unnecessary or inconvenient expense.
Create Meaningful Connections Good design fosters an emotional connection with consumers that will drive them back to the business time and time again. Connections are even more important than aesthetics, because a product may be pretty to look at, but if it does not work as it should then it will not be used for long. Good design that focuses on delivering the ultimate user experience will be enjoyable to use and give consumers a positive impression that will keep them coming back for more. Loyalty will be your business’ best friend, because not only will it breed an army of repeat customers, it will provide you with free word of mouth marketing as happy customers share their joy with their friends.
Be a Fierce Competitor
With millions of businesses that offer similar services, it is important to offer something that your competitors don’t. Using design to deliver a user experience that is superior to anything offered by other businesses will make you preferred option, because when customers don’t know the difference between one thing and another, they will be drawn to the one that looks, feels and sounds like the one that will best fulfil their needs. Design enables you to communicate this to the customers and help you stand out. Being a fierce competitor is also essential to obtain funding and press coverage, which can help generate great exposure and drive more consumers towards your business.
Increase Revenue Businesses are accustomed to thinking in dollars and cents, so to push the idea that design is a worthwhile investment over the line then just take a look at the figures. Research has shown that investing in design has greatly increased the revenue of businesses all around the world, and the numbers are pretty staggering. The Danish Design Centre found that gross revenues were around 22% higher for businesses that invested in design compared to those who didn’t, and the Design Council UK found that for every pound a company invested in design the returns included:
•₤4.12 net operating profit •₤20 net turnover •₤5.27 net exports
The numbers clearly show that design has the potential to have a real influence on a business’ cash flow, and any money that is spent on design truly is an investment because it will return the great rewards of growth and profitability into the future.
> The Time is Now
We’re all in luck because we are in the right place at the right time to invest in good design. The Victorian Government has appointed a minister for the creative industries, Hon. Martin Foley MP, and programs such as the ‘Design to Business’ initiative are being implemented to support SME businesses in Victoria. With this idea gaining traction, it’s time to hit the ground running and start reaping the rewards of good design straight away. There’s no time to waste!
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