In a previous era, all the talk was of strategy, strategy, strategy. More recently, it's been innovation, innovation, innovation. As design thinking seems poised to sweep away some of today's celebrated innovation practices, we must be wondering what new provocation is on the horizon. Relax, I'm not planning to conjure one up.
For those of us on the design consulting side of the business, it has not exactly been a smooth ride lately. But then again, I can't say that I ever remember it being all that smooth, even when the demand for all forms of basic design and new production capability was sky-high.
Having lived one career on the corporate design side of the consumer-products industry and now a good part of another on the consulting side, I've seen the ascendancy of design as a profession and the movement of design toward business competency. At the outset, designers were about style and the creation of bright shiny objects, and we dutifully manned our post at the last decoration station on the way to the marketplace.
Today, there are arguably two design strategies in the marketplace. You either succeed as the low-cost producer, or you successfully differentiate your offering by design in a relevant, meaningful way that is valued by shoppers, consumers, and sellers. As such, the theoretical role of design in business is relatively uncomplicated and straightforward.
Design in Business The complications come with these two questions: Where does the core idea around a differentiated, relevant, valued offering come from? And what is its relationship to this thing we used to call design? You know—the bright shiny objects.
In our practice, we refer to the former as innovation strategy, and to the latter as design strategy. Somewhere in between resides the opportunity for brand strategy, and we hope to create a system in which there is a seamless flow from ideas to brand meaning and, finally, to how that brand or product or service is expressed and communicated.
Putting all three aspects of this brand-building practice together provides validity in thinking about design as one of the primary idea generators for the creation of viable business platforms. Assuming that the manifestation of a business offering is realized in the context of a brand, that brand requires meaning, a defined expression, and then, given some success, a plan for continued opportunity development that sustains and grows the business.
How to Innovate True innovation requires the adoption of a belief system that sometimes must prevail in the face of other data metrics. Read up on the great inventions and business wins and you will note that at the core of most of them lie belief, dedication, and the passion to succeed. Today's business leaders are often too afraid to move ideas forward without ironclad data proofs that they will be successful. All too often, they are the losers. Use your head, listen to your heart, and feel what's in your gut.
As long as the human spirit and the marketplace lives on, I'm sure we will be inventing and innovating. Innovation is the commercial side of discovery and invention. Change is a huge driver of both discovery and invention. The world changes around us and we discover new things and we observe change and invent new things to deal with change.
If designers are content to function as purveyors of bright shiny objects, they will likely fade into obscurity. On the other hand, if they step forward and deliver the orchestration of the total experience with a brand, product, or service in the context of our changing environment, their future, too, looks bright.