Issue 28, Apr 2021 - Good Design Is Serious Business

By Mr. Simon Siah, Qurious Consulting Pte Ltd

Good Design Is Serious Business

One often relates design to the aesthetic appearance of a physical manifestation, in the form of a product, a business logo or website layout. Design is not just about making things pretty, but a process of understanding customer needs and using the insight to create products or services to meet unmet customer’s needs. Design provides the link between creativity and innovation to shape the creative idea into a final product – Cox (2005), Review of Creativity in Business. Adopting a design-led culture, can help companies by providing clarity to key business problems and solution, identify opportunities and drive innovation to boost business growth and create value for shareholders.

Companies big and small can benefit from building a design-driven business. Contrary to the belief that small businesses lack the resources and capabilities to implement design, small businesses are in fact in better position to execute ideas more quickly and have greater flexibility than big enterprises. It is more imperative for small businesses to adopt a design-led culture, to de-risk business ideas early, rapidly prototype and test business concepts, saving time and cost from wrong assumptions.  Focusing on the customer early, will prevent the company from incurring cost to salvage lost sales and relationships.

There are increasing ways for businesses to learn about their customers in real time, customers are also becoming more demanding, and the lines between physical and digital experience becoming more integrated. This has resulted in greater expectations for business to serve beyond ‘opening hour’. Customers no longer must wait for the companies to react to their feedback. They can take action to move their business elsewhere and influence the others to do the same. This makes customer centricity and listening of paramount importance. Businesses need to provide the best service across different touch points 24/7.

While case studies and empirical data shows that adopting a design-led approach as a competitive advantage has helped companies to consistently achieve better performance, companies should not jump into hiring designers, installing bean bags, and stocking the pantry fridge with beer.

Design is not just the role of the Designer

Hiring designers or setting up a design department is not sufficient to successfully build a design-led company. Design is not just the role of the Design department. The design mindset must be fostered at the management level right at the top, with the leadership. Design needs to be the common lingo across all levels in the company. At the strategic level, a company’s managers must have a clear understanding of design from a wide perspective. This will enable the managers to deploy design characteristics both within the business plan and throughout the process of delivering it.

Design must be included as part of the company’s strategy, its core values, and structured in ways that the customer is always placed at the Centre of the Universe. Design-led company’s embraces the customer-centric mindset in everything they do, from the business plan, ad campaigns, to the layout of the pantry in the office. The culture of design-led companies is obsessed with continuous improvements through experimentations and listening to their customers to deliver better products and services. Design led companies align processes, people, and priorities to serve the needs of the customer.

Design is not just “Design Thinking”

Despite the hype around Design thinking in the recent years, academics like John E. Arnold already wrote about Design thinking in his book “Creative Engineering” in 1959.  Design thinking as a process, is valuable in helping to take away the complexity of business strategies and allows managers to focus on value creation, using their competitive advantage to meet the expectations of the customers. It also harnesses the power of diversity and collaboration to co-create new alternative solutions to solve complex problems. However, to yield real results, Design thinking need to be supported by “Doing”, to invest resources to convert the ideas into “experiments”, learn from the failure of the experiments and continuously iterate the process.

It is sometimes easier to do things the old way, even when evidence points towards the opposite direction. It takes commitment and conviction from the leader to listen to the customer’s feedback, stick to the findings and not go for the “easier way” out.

Design (alone) is not Innovation

Design has been closely associated or sometimes being misidentified as Innovation.  Creativity blurs the line further, with the interdependent relationship amongst Creativity, Innovation, and Design.

Creativity is the generator for new ideas and solutions and should be encouraged amongst the people. It is important to build “out of the box” thinking as a core capability, to explore new opportunities for the organisation. However, in cultures that fail to consider the practical matters of implementation, too many ideas become destructive and distraction to the business because nothing is really achieved talking and not doing.

Innovation creates new value by applying the creative output, to come up with novel ways to solve problems by creating new products, services, or processes. However, sometimes a successful innovation is not about creating totally new products all the time. Sometimes huge value can be created by a simple tweak to a current process, or a basic feature added to a product. Innovation provides a replicable and scalable process to identify and apply creative outputs to create new values. The goal to create value is the motivation to turn ideas into actual product or services.

Design provides the links between Creativity and Innovation to shape the creative idea into a final product. Design provides a set of processes to guide and make sense of generalised ideas from the creative process primed for innovation. Design and Creativity together to systematically come up with new ideas are key drivers for innovation in any organisation.

Innovation is important to continuously drive new values and help businesses to grow by improving productivity and efficiency. COVID has brought about unprecedented changes that caught many businesses off-guard. “Innovate or die” suddenly took centre stage as businesses thrived to stay afloat in survival mode. Building a strong design-led culture, helps businesses to remain competitive by staying relevant, serving the changing customer needs.

Running a successful business is not just about having a well-designed website or offering sought-after products or services. To be successful, the business must investigate all aspects including finance, operations, technology, marketing, human resource, and strategy. Start looking seriously today at how a design-led approach can be integrated into the overall strategy and ways it can create greater efficiency in the various business areas to add value to your customers.



About Qurious:

Qurious is a design-led innovation consultancy based in Singapore.  We help businesses build positive innovation capabilities with our cross- discipline experience in design, innovation, technology, and business. By bridging design and business strategies, we work with our clients to develop innovation cultures that put their customers at the center, while using design as a tool to repeatedly create value as a competitive advantage.  

About the writer:

Simon Siah is an Innovation Consultant, Business Advisor and Serial Entrepreneur with a unique combination of experiences and track record of successes with MNC, family businesses, and entrepreneurial start-ups. An advocate for innovation as the next strategic imperative for companies, Simon is passionate about helping companies to innovate for sustainable growth and achieve a competitive advantage in the race to beat disruption. Simon works tenaciously with a proven ability to deliver high value and innovative solutions.

Simon is a TedX speaker and shares regularly in the areas of Design Thinking, Entrepreneurship, and Business innovation. He is also a strong believer in lifelong learning and holds a MSc in Innovation at Singapore Management University and is currently pursuing his MA in Design Management with Northumbria University.




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