Design vs. Business: What Value Does Design Add to Business?

Businesses have realized the need for an integrated design process within the framework of providing effective products and services. This integration has not been smooth. There is a push and pull between design and business. Though this tension gives rise to conflicts that can be harnessed for rich solutions, the underlying 'us' and 'them' mentality needs to evaporate. I think part of the reason for this tension is because of the inability of designers to articulate to business folk their core skills at abstraction and the nature of businesses to hedge risk for future decisions, prototypes, and ventures. These two groups need to meet each other halfway. They can't blame one another for their miscommunications and expect the other to change. Since I'm coming from the design perspective, I will attempt to articulate the value that designers can add to the business realm.

In the past, design was usually been brought in when there were problems with a product or service. This is when the business wants a more compelling look, feel, or brand identity. In other cases it's figuring out the nitty-gritty of a product's design. The designer's process of communicating with all departments and aspects when designing a service or product is an ability that can be leveraged to solve wider issues. At the designer's core is an ability to abstract the world and interactions with people. These abstract models are then visualized and externalized, but are also iterated to maintain newly discovered information. Avoiding the microscopic detail of a model allows for flexibility. This allows for the designer to insightfully frame the problem to the business. Essentially, as the two work together, businesses and designers can make use of existing resources within the business to be used for new applications. The end result is a flexible, organic, and robust business model.

A change in the business model will result from where the value is perceived to exist. As an example, value can be present in the product or it can even be in the services provided to a target audience. It's important to stop sometimes and ask whether or not you're perceiving value in the desired place.  As businesses realize that their business models are not as fixed as they believe, they can then leverage their existing resources to take advantage of different sources of value.
Suggested Readings:
Design Thinking and Design Management: A Research and Practice Perspective by Rachel Cooper, Sabine Junginger, and Thomas Lockwood

Designing Business: New Models for Success by Heather M.A. Fraser

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