At EGGS Design, all new employees get a thorough onboarding to all our creative disciplines. As creative director of Business Design, Jørgen Solstad hosts the onboarding for his discipline. In these sessions, he presents EGGS' take on what Business Design means for us and our work. Read his article to find out how we define this new design field in EGGS.
Apart from presenting our business design onboarding internally, I’ve recently taken to presenting the material externally, and I have found it fuels some interesting conversations. I’d like to share some of it here with you. Hopefully, it spurs some reflection and discussion about what business design is, and why it's relevant.
1. Achieving your planned business outcomes.
Sources vary but indicate that maybe as much as 95% of all innovation projects fail to achieve their planned business outcomes. That is a grim statistic! The recently deceased Clayton Christensen was one of the first to point this out over 23 years ago. I’m not only talking about the nine out of ten startups that die. I’m talking about the projects that fail to get the value they planned from their investment in innovation.
But companies need to keep trying. They need to re-invent themselves. And to increase their odds, they sometimes approach consultants. Sometimes that consultant is a designer. Why is that?
Why does anyone believe coming to a designer can increase these odds? Well, they’ve heard that most innovations fail because people don’t want them. They don’t need them. They are not desirable.
A potential customer may like the idea of a product or service, but she is not willing to put in enough effort to acquire it -let alone pay for it.
Desirability was never enough.
Now, designers are great at finding what is desirable. We are trusted to do that. We are specialists.
However, it turns out that a significant number of innovation projects fail to achieve their planned business outcomes for entirely different reasons.
Designers are great at finding what is desirable. We are trusted to do that. We are specialists.Jørgen Solstad
The innovation may not be feasible. For example, the company may not have the technology or assets to enable this innovation. You may want to make your company the dominating platform of your industry, but if you lack technology resources -or the money to acquire it- it is not a road you can travel. It’s not feasible for you.
Or the innovation is not viable. You can’t make a profit from it. Or, you may not be a credible source for it. You don’t have the right brand. Maybe you are not capable of delivering it. You may lack competence, tools, or the right people.
The central message in the infamous "Desirability-Feasibility-Viability"-Venn diagram is often not fully acknowledged. What was referred to as "the sweet spot of innovation"- right there in the middle -turns out to be the only spot for innovation. And it may make up as little as 5% of the area.
Many design consultancies have found that to be a go-to-place for not only desirability but also for innovation, they need to hit that tiny target. To do so, they need to design not only desirability but also feasibility and viability. Business design is about designing the viability part.
Business design is designing for viability.
As we will see below, many design consultancies want to react to a growing demand to deliver beyond desirability. To do that, they must broaden their focus. Clients and their management are starting to ask for more than desirability from designers. They want success. They want the 5%. As you'll see later, other types of consultants out there wishing to deliver innovation see the same thing and take appropriate action.
2. The opportunity that came knocking
This Venn diagram has been true for thousands of years. Why are designers focusing on viability now? One answer is that the opportunity came knocking now. And I mean that very literally. Where potential clients yesterday knocked on the door to a design consultancy saying, "Can you help me give form to this product?", "Shape this interface?" or "Craft this touchpoint?". Today some just say, “Can you help me?”.
The output from designers has historically gone from craft -making stuff- to being asked to do creative problem-solving. Design Thinking and Service Design quickly became shorthand for solving complex challenges in a people-centric way. Today designers are lucky enough to be asked to do both while helping with strategic transformation. This means finding out what companies should be doing in the first place. Making companies new. Even making new companies. What separates designers from other actors in these efforts is that they utilize "the whole pyramid" (see illustration) in a holistic fashion.
Designers are increasingly helping determine what companies should be doing in the first place, re-making companies, and making new companies.Jørgen Solstad
3. Design’s fit to ambiguity
So what has happened out there to create this demand? “Exponential change” happened. Everything changing. Change happening faster and faster. This has made it harder to plan. It has become harder to make a good strategy. Every problem now has so many parameters in motion that there is no solid ground to base great decisions on.
The word exponential change has been hyped to death. A more useful word describing the problems of making decisions in this complexity is ambiguity. The solution could be this -oh, wait! Now it is that? It depends.
The traditional management toolbox falls a bit short here.
Now, the traditional management toolbox falls a bit short here. When applied, it is typically geared towards regaining control. Since stopping the changing world is unrealistic, and ignoring it is, well, foolish, they often resort to two things; shortening the planning horizon and limiting the budget. I believe this is an essential driver for the popularity of design sprints. It's not that designers have secretly dreamt of sprinting. It is a project management tool that controls costs by limiting time. Now, if not handled expertly -something very few can do- these two measures can result in a reduced focus on building robust and long-term competitive advantage. These are the very things they set out to gain in the first place!
So, these companies go looking for help. They come to designers because they have some traits and tools that address complexity and ambiguity. Visual communication. Empathy with human beings -like their employees and their customers. Prototyping. Conceptualizing. All that jazz. The smartest hire designers on their executive teams, but luckily for the consultants among us -some also hire help.
4. Why everybody is doing design
There is, of course, also a threat behind creating the new discipline in our consultancy. That threat is rooted in the very same ambiguity. Because this new complexity touches everything. It touches everyone. And so it goes that every one it touches wants to have their hands on the steering wheel. They all want to be in the driver's seat of that innovation car. Design consultancies, marketing studios, management consulting, strategy consulting, innovation consulting. They all promise to bring clarity and direction. They all promise the 5%.
To do so, they need to master desirability, feasibility, and viability. All three. Most find they need to broaden their competence. Those weak on desirability have found design to be a key ingredient in strengthening it.
This is the reason why management consulting -strong on viability- is acquiring design studios. The same is done by large IT companies -strong on feasibility. At EGGS Design, we have established the discipline of Business Design to strengthen our own viability muscles. We established a Creative Tech discipline some years ago to do the same for feasibility.
The stage is set. Who will become the preferred partner for innovation? All we can say is that the line of different consultants wanting to solve a client's "innovation challenge" is rapidly growing. And, ever more of them can do the job -making our client's task of choosing an innovation partner increasingly difficult.
5. Managing the other 90% of your assets
There is one additional factor creating the demand for design competence on top of the complexity and ambiguity. Businesses today are seeing a substantial -and increasing- part of their value no longer appearing in their books. It is immaterial. It is made up of reputation, brand, relations, user experience. It is often booked as “goodwill” when the IT unicorns go public. It can make up over 90% of their total value.
Naturally, businesses are nervous about destroying some of this value when they innovate. When they change. Which they must. For a lot of management, this value is hard to relate to and harder yet to leverage or manipulate.
Naturally, businesses are nervous about destroying some of this value when they innovate.Jørgen Solstad
Design and designers deal with this value on a day-to-day basis. One of their main competencies is the creation and manipulation of it. This realization is a critical reason designers are included in more and more executive teams -and even sit on corporate boards.
Having realized this, we at EGGS have organized the two disciplines of Business Design and Brand Design together. We see that, at least on a top-level, the two deal with the same strategic questions. Who are you? What position are you gunning for?
6. Problem Solving Strategies
So, what is Business Design? Let's look at the two components, "business" and "design." There are traits and mindsets to each. Obviously. But for now, let us look at tools and processes. Below is a typical representation of a design process.
For each stage, there are tools and activities. Creative facilitation, mind mapping, probes, and prototypes, etc. I think many designers regard what they do as problem-solving.
This is interesting because it bears an uncanny similarity to what many business and management professionals do. A key job for a business manager is to make decisions. If you hold an MBA -a Master’s in Business Administration- you will most likely have encountered a set of guidelines on how to do this.
Pictured are also the phases of one such guideline. It states you need first to make sure you understand the problem -and that you are sure it's the right problem to solve. You then need to be clear on your objectives with solving this. You should proceed to find many alternatives to reach these objectives. Subsequently, you need to determine each alternative's consequences, make trade-offs, and ultimately decide what to do. And a management professional has the tools to do this: market studies, financial modeling, spreadsheets.
See any similarities?
Adoption of tools.
So. Similar approaches. Because they are both about solving problems. But they use different tools and solve different challenges. Historically, these challenges were considered so different that there was a tangible divide between what management professionals worked with and what design professionals worked with. The same went for the tools they used. But now that's all changed.
Senior designers working with startups found that they, to some extent, were designing the business when they were finding that initial value proposal. Progressive business developers found tools like the business model canvas and design thinking to be incredibly powerful. So, they crossed into each other’s “territory."
Limits of reach.
Now, Business Design is not about declaring war to "protect territory." On the contrary! Business design is celebrating this blending. But it also recognizes that there is a limit to how far each side can stretch. The span is substantial, and there is a vast potential in inventing and improving the tools in this blend zone. That, and two perimeters of interest, can articulate the value contribution of a new type of specialist; The Business Designer.
Business in Design.
In the "design perimeter," there is a need for skilled representation of business interests embedded deeply in the creative effort. This is not the inclusion of a business developer in workshops. This is a permanent member of the creative team. A business designer here helps align the creative efforts to the desired business outcomes. Translating business contexts and goals into creative challenges that a team of diverse backgrounds can work on without producing irrelevant ideas. Ultimately making sure the innovation beats the odds and becomes part of the 5% club.
Design in Business.
In the "business perimeter," there is a need for skilled representation of creativity embedded deeply in business decision processes. Although I find many management professionals to be highly creative, a business designer can help clarify strategic alternatives, ensure customer empathy, validate alternatives, and not least broaden the palette of alternatives -making for better decision-making.
The business designer can be the critical creator, facilitator, and translator to make more projects succeed.
At EGGS Design, we've established a separate discipline called Business Design. It is a sibling to our other disciplines of creative technology, industrial-, service-, brand-, and digital design. It exists because we see that our current design disciplines cannot stretch far enough into the business domain to deliver consistently on viability. We work in teams to develop products and services that help our clients achieve their desired business outcomes. We also ensure our creative efforts are targeted -and thus efficient.
A Business Designer embeds creativity into business processes and business interests in the creative team.Jørgen Solstad
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