When referring to design-led innovation, the usual names that tend to come to mind are Apple, Samsung and IKEA– global companies with big budgets and top-level designers. In most small to medium sized businesses, the situation tends to differ with differing needs for design management. A lot of the SMEs probably had no prior experience with design management and have only come across disappointing collaborations in terms of budgeting, schedules and final outcomes. By using design more strategically, companies can become more competitive, generating a better return on investment with better brand visibility and brand loyalty leading to growth.
Not having a clearly defined brief, not taking the time to review all possible options before crafting a solution, no agreed budget – decision was made based on the cheapest price, no set deliverables and scheduling was agreed upon etc revolve deeply around how a project was prepared, managed and planned as opposed to what the final outcome looked like.
According to the design management staircase developed by the Design Management Europe Network, there are four levels of integrating design into a company’s structure. At an entry level, the previously introduced scenario holds true with little or no knowledge of design. On a more advanced level, where design management is used on a project basis, the discipline is used primarily as a marketing tool managed by a few specific employees for the purpose of “styling”. When the tools of design are used as a function proactively, to create new products and services, linking it to innovation, with a dedicated department assigned with set responsibilities, the company ensures it can keep up with competition. According to Tim Brown, IDEO: “where you innovate, how you innovate and what you innovate are design problems. When you bring design thinking into the strategic discussion, you introduce a powerful tool to the purpose of the entire endeavor, which is to grow”.
Companies at the highest level have a design culture integrated in the company, where design methodologies are the main pillars of creating internal processes, reshaping the missions, visions and products and services. Design isn’t just an aesthetic solution. Successful design is about innovating, connecting to the market by thoroughly understanding the customer base. Improving competitiveness, reducing risks, increasing sales and attracting investments.
A company may have a new product for which originally they might want to design a suitable packaging. Design managers’ roles can help re-evaluate the launch of the new product to market. Apart from needing branded packaging that stands out from the competition, selling direct will require an ecommerce site and social media plans. Wanting to take orders online, the packaging should be suitable for posting. Attending shows being part of the marketing plan means that promotional materials may be required. By understanding all the needed deliverables, the correct budgeting and plans can be made with the designers.
Design has guidelines for a set development process where in the discovery phases: ideas are screened. While scoping, a preliminary assessment is made about the users, the market, the technical and financial aspects. Following the first two steps a competition analysis and a more detailed investigation of the market is conducted as part of a business case. During the development phase, after analyzing customer interactions and operation plans, concept designs are created with thorough design research. Interactive prototyping, detailed designs can prepare for the final testing and customer trials and the pilot launch. At this stage functionality, usability and desirability are tested before the main launch and review.
Despite being used on a project-by-project basis design management can be of great value to SMEs when followed through strategically.