Why businesses need to think like designers

tim brown leans on a table

Tim Brown, CEO of global design firm IDEO, spoke at the Disruptive Innovation Festival (DIF) about the changing economy and how people, businesses and societies as a whole need to think more like designers to keep ahead of the curve.

Ask a room of people what the word design means to them, and you will likely hear a lot about how things look, what they are made of and what colours you can buy it in.  In reality, design encompasses so much more than aesthetics; it is the creative mindset needed to innovate.  Too much effort, recently, has been spent designing things to be as beautiful as possible.  Apple are partly to blame for this, continually releasing new products with hardware thinner and software simpler, at the cost of a huge sacrifice to usability.  Aesthetics are an important part of our interaction with a product, but they should not conflict with the basic Interaction Design principles of discoverability, recovery, consistency and feedback.  Worst of all, these products will simply stop functioning after a few years.

Tim wants the value of the designer to be recognised for what it is.  Design philosophies and techniques are valuable tools at every level of business, and are in fact essentials in order to not stagnate. This idea is not new to Tim; his book Change by Design, published in 2009, outlines how design thinking can allow companies to problem solve from a human-centred approach.  This innovation is vital to ensure businesses don’t fall into the dangerous trap of continually ‘giving customers what they want’.  Products and services that don’t evolve will quickly become mediocre, mundane and undesirable.

This movement is not just coming from the bottom, however, there are big companies pushing for design to give them a competitive advantage.  Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, said in a 2004 interview that “The fracturing of trust is based on the fact that the consumer has been let down”.  Our current economic model is approaching the point of failure.  For widespread change to take place, this action can’t just be sole businesses adopting change.  A total transformation of culture is required.

Designing better things with Mark Shayler

Mark Shayler is an eco designer and writer of the DIY disruption book Do Disrupt. Mark gave an inspiring talk at this year’s TEDx Brighton. The theme of the day was ‘Losing Control’ – and that’s exactly what he wants us to do.

The message Mark Shayler left us with (which also happens to be his personal motto) is that we need to “design better things, not design things better”.  This didn’t make any sense to me at first, but I have since gotten my head around what he meant.  It feels like a very important message, one that I’d like to share with you today.

Mark’s main job involves consulting for companies, saving them money by eco-auditing to find weak spots in their production line, packaging, or manufacturing processes.  He then works with them to refine processes and make things simpler.  He claims to have saved his clients £10 million pounds by doing this, over the years.

But for Mark, this is not enough.  Taking something that is unsustainable and improving it, polishing it up nicely, this doesn’t chop his broccoli.  To truly innovate, we can’t just design things better, we have to completely start over – we have to design better things.

Mark has been doing this with some huge clients, including Nike and Coca-Cola – ‘Positively Disrupting’ business models to the point where they actually change the status quo.  On his website Mark quotes Sir Ian Cheshire, saying “if you don’t disrupt your business model then someone else will.”  Also, someone you might not associate with disruption, Jony Ive himself said that “complete intrigue with the physical world starts by destroying it.

This is clearly something we must take seriously, and as much as Mark presents it with cheeky humour, is an issue that needs to be addressed in order to not fall behind.  I will leave you with one of Mark’s powerful analogies: a sailing boat is safest where?  In a harbour.  What is it built to do?  Sail the seas.  So get out into the wind, he says, and take a risk to do something big.