Design is shaping business as ever before. With the irruption of design thinking as a mainstream methodology in 2000s, companies started to pay attention to design and implement this new perspective to solve old unsolved problems. Design consultancies like IDEO and some others made of this philosophy its identity and helped to make it viral around the world. This was just the first move of this trend, however nowadays design is evolving even quicker, taking a protagonic role in innovation and broadening its influence in the business world.
Differentiation is a synonym of design. Design was applied to make products more beautiful, more functional, more usable… also it was used to communicate better, to visualize complex narratives and to make services easier to understand and navigate. Then, it took a more emotional dimension making the creations more pleasurable, meaningful and personalized. Eventually it is being used as a tool to facilitate connect and leverage value systems within organizations that uncover new business models. In its essence, design must beat the mystery to open unexplored doors that might connect to new dimensions of interesting possibilities.
Design is climbing up the ladder faster than ever (Dansk Design Center, 2016). It was known that design could take a place in the overall business strategy, nevertheless no many companies were either brave enough or able to apply it in a sustainable manner. The application of design as strategy shows a new dimension to create a competitive advantage in the market for companies and it is being seen to become more common in enterprises from different industries in the last years.
Design in its strategy dimension is a fluid discipline, it spreads within the companies to impregnate different departments with design practices. To apply design strategy, people must understand the basic principles of design: user centeredness, empathy, a mental & physical process, future oriented, hands on approach, visual, co-creative, an interconnection for complex systems, continuous testing and iteration…every decision taken within the company should consider a design mindset. Applying these principles should be not exclusive for designers, it must involve as many stakeholders as possible to make a real impact internally and in the market.
In the last decade more startups are being founded by designers. Lately, we have seen several designers founding successful startups such Chad Hurley (Youtube), Brian Chesky (Airbnb), Charles Adler (Kickstarter) or Mike Krieger (Instagram). Since the founders understand the value of applying a design mindset in business, the whole company is ruled by design principles and this philosophy leads to great differentiation in the market. For example, Airbnb has a department called Employee experience, which gives a clue of the company culture considering the front stage of the experience as much as the backstage.
Coinbase, the biggest crypto exchange in the world, is an example of the application of design strategy. Cryptocurrencies is a new and unexplored world for the general audience. Only a few geeks and visionaries were playing around with it since Bitcoin appeared back in 2009. Coinbase set the stage to become the natural entrance to cryptocurrencies for the mainstream audience applying several design principles: user centeredness, making something complex as simple as possible; visual, using a great user experience and interface; and holistic, designing the whole service to be intuitive, accessible and effective.
Design provided a trustful environment to exchange something as ethereal as cryptocurrencies, which are totally volatile and convey a high degree of uncertainty. Coinbase did not even have the biggest offer in cryptocurrencies, they actually started with only three from a catalogue of 1,658 coins, but they were able to conquer the biggest piece of the market due to user experience delivered. They attracted more than 13 million users around the world and help them trade $150 billion worth of cryptocurrency over the past year applying a strategy based in design.
Design as strategy is clearly an essential part of business in these days. Traditionally, using a business perspective meant to analyze the past and make decisions to generate higher revenue in the future. Design strategy envisions the future, crafting ideal solutions to answer What should it be? questions. Designers create things (tangible and intangible) based on societal trends and ethnographic research to understand behaviors and desires while businessmen are trained to make decisions based on data.
Using design as strategy means wearing special lenses that filter desirability, viability and feasibility, combining what is attractive for the user, what can be made technically and what represents a sustainable business (Brown, 2009). Design strategy diverges substantially exploring all kind of ideas and then brings analytical tools to evaluate the potential of the ideas created.
However, design is not a static discipline. It evolves reacting to new business paradigms. In fact, business is changing from a knowledge paradigm (Brand, R., & Rocchi, S. 2011), where companies enable platforms for peers to exchange value, to a transformational paradigm, where companies need to rely on complementary expertise, global know-how and local contextual insights, which require experimentation via new venturing and cooperative approaches with conventional and non-conventional stakeholders.
Design strategy is the secret ingredient to ensure a competitive advantage in the future and unpredictable markets. It can be applied in different levels:
- Collaborative fuzzy front end of innovation: What should I do? How could I find new business opportunities? Who should I connect to create value? Defining the direction to go for the company and the stakeholders involved in the co-creation process is vital in a network driven business scenario. Since business will be a collaborative effort, the strategy must be defined by consensus with all relevant stakeholders.
- Product service system strategy: How do I combine products and services in a system that fit our strategy? How the brand new system fits with the company portfolio and with the company goals? Defining a new strategy for the new product service systems could alter the overall company strategy and position the business in a more beneficial area.
- Experience strategy: How can I create an user experience that deliver value in every touchpoint? How do I transmit the brand values during the experience? Which stakeholders are taking part of the experience? Defining intertwined experiences between brands and peers to deliver memorable moments for the end user.
- Market introduction strategy: How and when should I launch my product/service to the market? How should I use the assets and resources in the local and global context to maximize the revenue? Using design principles to maximize market adoption and get a critical mass that permit a leader position in the market.
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