Design-culture drives better business

29th April 2017
Simon Baker

A design culture can deliver lasting impact for companies by improving business capabilities and boosting business growth

The term ‘design’ is commonly used to describe a tangible output, e.g. something’s form, layout or appearance; or to refer to a styling activity. But it’s more than just look and feel. Design is really an holistic approach applied in the development of products, services and business models to generate value. It does this by creating propositions that are desirable, usable, viable and feasible.

As well as helping businesses to develop and communicate ideas, design provides insights to help define opportunities and strategies. The success of any new product or service ultimately depends on human motivations and behaviour—people buy technology for what it does for them. This represents a risk for companies seeking to exploit innovative technologies because even the most cutting-edge technology will fail if potential customers see no benefit or are unable to use it effectively. By focusing on human behaviour, design mitigates that risk and leverages opportunities to create more value through delightful customer experiences.

For every £1 invested in design, businesses might achieve as much as £20 in increased revenue. Also a £4 increase in net operating profit. Despite this 68% of UK businesses never or rarely practice design, or they come to it as a “last finish”.


The role of design is reactive rather than proactive when it’s constrained to late styling activities, which restricts the value of its influence and contribution. When applied throughout the delivery process, beginning in the early stages, it can significantly de-risk achieving a successful outcome. The insights from continuous discovery and the exploration of current and future scenarios help refine multiple propositions that offer outstanding customer experiences and generate more business value.

In some businesses, there’s little awareness and understanding of how to use design end-to-end and the value that can generate. Other businesses appreciate it’s value but do not have the capability to practice it to maximum effect, nor procure it. The 2005 Review of Creativity in Business identified 3 barriers to greater creativity within businesses:

  1. Limited understanding of where and how greater creativity could be used for business advantage.
  2. Lack of confidence that the investment in design, in terms of time, money and disruption, will produce a return.
  3. Lack of knowledge of how to go about it, or where to turn for help.


There’s some correlation between the value that businesses are able to realise from design and the extent to which they have embedded it in their company culture. Basically, used earlier and in a more strategic role, the greater the benefit.

When integrated into company culture, it can readily explore challenges through a customer lens and in the context of the business model and business operations. It can inform strategies and targets and, with its creative framework, move businesses from contextual understanding towards viable propositions and innovation opportunities. Design becomes a return multiplier.

Fostering a design-led culture means that some companies must step beyond their comfort zones, adopt new ways of thinking, and embrace cross-functional and self-organising collaboration.


Design has gained relevance for the way companies are structured, how they operate and how they think. An increasing number are starting to use it strategically to differentiate from competition, launch new brands and strengthen existing ones, and to inform strategic choices.

The business benefits of a design-led approach are many:

  • Improved understanding of customers, enabling more desirable and fit-for-purpose product and services.
  • Increased business resilience through more sustainable solutions with lower total cost of ownership.
  • Reduced innovation risk, timescales and cost.
  • Better differentiated offerings in competitive markets.
  • More rapid identification and opening up of new markets.
  • More effective communication and collaboration.
  • Stronger brand, increasing awareness, loyalty and advocacy among customers.

Regardless of type, size or sector, a business can use design to accelerate, de-risk and capture more value from its product development and innovation programmes. There’s already considerable evidence for it acting as a mechanism for business growth and innovation. Companies like Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Burberry and BMW are winning through their design and the thinking behind it. It’s time for design to be firmly on the business agenda.

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