The Stage Is Set

Today business designers come from both the business- and design domains. Business consultants and design consultants are both competing -and collaborating- on the same challenges. I believe religiously in skills over formal training. I deeply respect experience wherever I find it. But professions exist to drive trust, quality and continuous improvement for its members. If the design profession doesn’t pay attention now, they will become passengers on the coming road trip!

If the design profession doesn’t pay attention now, they will become passengers on the coming road trip!
Jørgen Solstad

Once Upon a Time…

12 years ago I was CEO of a small consultancy in Oslo doing mostly industrial design and interaction design. The (industrial) design profession had found new fertile ground for its user-centric approach and use of prototypes in the digital realm. Design students had begun to specialize in “product” or “digital” at schools. In the design community this division seemed “clear” since, at the time, digital designers designed what was shown on screens and product designers designed tangible things.

Enter service design

In this landscape my colleagues and I had taken interest in the fledgling term “service design” and we were eagerly debating the novelty of it. Upon attending a board meeting in the Norwegian Association for Industrial Design the term came up. In the room were extremely experienced designers and designers from the leading agencies in Norway at the time. With a few exceptions, the consensus was that this was “the emperor’s new clothes”. There was simply nothing new to service design. In the previous 40 years, industrial designers had been conducting user studies, mapping product life cycles, ideating and delivering coherent experiences with the end user in focus. They had applied these methods to both products and spaces, championing the term “user experience”.

There was simply nothing new to service design. In the previous 40 years industrial designers had been conducting user studies, mapping product life cycles, ideating and delivering coherent experiences with the end user in focus.
Jørgen Solstad

A Failure of Vision

These industrial designers weren’t wrong. But they did fail to see the expansion of their profession towards a domain where they could multiply their impact. Fast forward to today and service design has dwarfed its product design sibling with regards to volume and impact. It has become a discipline within the design profession with unique skillsets and deliverables. And it has become a household term for institutions and companies in both the public and the private sector. In short; “service design” has successfully expanded the impact of design and carved out its own domain in the process.

They did fail to see the expansion of their profession towards a domain where they could multiply their impact.

Déjà vu

In EGGS we recently recruited three business designers, and in that process, I was reminded about the discussions twelve years back. This time the discussion was loaded with curiosity and a more healthy skepticism though. Is “business design” the “emperor’s new clothes” all over again? Designers have been talking about their value to innovation and their usefulness to business activities since the dawn of the profession. The same goes for testing hypothesis iteratively using cheap prototypes. Service designers have been formulating strategies across business units with the agenda to unify customer experience and deliver relevant value the last 15 years. So; is there nothing new to business design?

Designers have been talking about their value to innovation and their usefulness to business activities since the dawn of the profession.
Jørgen Solstad

Enter Business Design

The emergence of service design has not created barriers to the evolving and thriving discipline of product design. Product designers were neither diluted or displaced by service designers! But it was a failure of vision to not identify “service design” as a vehicle to multiply the impact of design. I believe Business Design holds the very same potential. As a profession design should grasp this opportunity.

Own It

Business design must not become the arbitrary application of selected design tools by non-designers. A business designer must not become a trendy title for a “classic” business developer or business consultant. Design is a craft, business is a domain. A business designer applies design craft to business contexts and business sense to her design craft.

A business designer applies design craft to business contexts and business sense to her design craft.
Jørgen Solstad

To me business design…;

1. Applies creativity to the design of business itself.

2. Creates the necessary structure to hunt for value in complex ecosystems.

3. Visualizes the consequences of strategy alternatives.

Yes, business designers find and form business models. They are “doers” in identifying, creating and validating business assumptions and insights. They are native to all forms of rapid development methods. But their mindset and skills must be those of a designer. If they are not, they do business consulting or entrepreneurship. Valuable, but different. Even if some design tools are used. Holding a hammer does not make you a carpenter.

Business Design is an emerging discipline globally. It is still not fully defined. Designers should not unwittingly let others take possession of it. We need to own it. There are many out there who are working towards that goal, but many are still not aware of its potential.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on what business design is to you, and what position you think the design profession can and should take on it.