Why it is time to rethink design – and to reinvent it

Traditionally, creativity has been the domain of artists and designers. In conventional (and outdated) understanding, design is something that is brought into play by management to perform a partial task, such as product design or advertising, packaging, etc. It has been one of many topics on the corporate agenda so far. No less, no more. But due to increased competitiveness in the market and global change the cards have been reshuffled. As a consequence, design has become a key competence in developing forward-thinking business strategies and models.

By Holger Bramsiepe and Dr Friedhelm Boettcher

Creativity: from nice to have to need to have

The fact that disruptive digitization is fundamentally changing or disrupting existing business models is emphasized time and time again at innovation conferences and by advisory companies [1]. Not all organizations, however, especially SMEs and companies from the ‘Mittelstand’ seem to see a compelling need for action, which can have many reasons. These may include, for example, a corporate culture inhibiting creativity, a lack of growth orientation and scarce resources. In addition, there is also a lack of growth orientation as well as a lack of willingness to see the need for change. According to a EY survey among 3,000 SMEs and ‘Mittelstand’ companies, digitization plays a major role for 62% of high-growth companies, but only for 30% of less growth-oriented companies. There is the risk of a two-class society in whith the second class is in danger of being left behind [2].

The ability to draw valuable conclusions from extensive amounts of information and to identify and implement new, creative options through design plays a vital role in the development of promising (digital) business models as well as of companies as a whole. The term design, in this context, has a new meaning going far beyond its classic functions. Now, it is rather about strategic design that combines several skills and disciplines, thus accompanying the continuous transformation of sustainable enterprises in accordance with a “culture of innovation”. With that said, creativity is growing into the role of a key function. According to the World Economic Forum, by 2020, creativity will move up from 10th to 3rd place in the ranking of top ten skills, behind ‘Complex Problem Solving’ (1) and ‘Critical Thinking’ (2). [3] Creativity has to enable and support innovative and business relevant solutions. It is coupled with agile structures and processes found in start-ups, including a keen sense of curiosity and a sound “culture of failure” that allows mistakes considering them opportunities to learn from. The successful combination of the creative potential of innovators and the possibilities of established medium-sized and large companies opens oup incredible potential for sustainable future growth opportunities – if, however, recognized and realized.

Strategic design as a new dimension of creativity

The rise of creativity into a key factor in designing strategies, business models, processes and products could make us think creative advertising companies would benefit from the developments. However, on the contrary, this is not or very seldom the case [4], which highlights the new quality of creativity required in the process of rapid change due to digital transformation. Volker Schütz, editor-in-chief at HORIZONT, emphasizes: “Companies will only be part of the digital lifestyle of people if they succeed in developing attractive products and services. And here, design, especially product design, UX, etc., plays a very central role. “[5] Classic advertising, on the other hand, is not gainful enough, does not reach enough people, and contributes too little to the customer journey to benefit from change.

It is this pivotal position in Customer Experience, respectively Customer Experience, in the digital world that frees it from its limitations as a factor of external representation and allows it to move up to the level of strategic business management and business development. For example, the increasing importance attached to design shows that devices and sensors of smart home systems such as the water safety system GROHE Sense are not designed to be purely functional, but to capture the aesthetics of digital icons, such as those from Apple, and put them into a new functional context.

With the increased importance of strategic design, the job description of the designer is also changing. The former “artist”, or artisan, is now becoming, together with other innovators, a “facilitator of innovation” in companies and organizations. To succeed in this changing environment it is prerequisite to master a broad spectrum of skills, which increasingly include digital knowledge and competences [6]. Here, classical traits of creatives come into play, which, in addition to their special training, help them drive innovation across the organization. These include: visual imagination, empathy, powers od observation, spontaneity, curiosity and openness to external influences, but also persistence in solving problems as well as a trained perception, self-confidence, positive additiude towards complexity, a certain willingness to take risks and the courage to learn from mistakes.

But strategic design is much more than that. In addition, it requires these attitudes, personal traits and and skills have to be transferred to and implenmented into other, strategically relevant business areas. Ideally, all managers, executives involved in the design of strategies, processes and products must develop creative potential, or be enabled to use use it within the scope of cooperative value creation. CEOs should no longer just act as managing directors, CIOs not just as heads of IT, and CFOs no longer just as financial officers [7]. Future leaders from all professional backgrounds have, at least to some extent, act like commmunicators and creatives if they want to succeed and survive in a world characterized by rapid digital change. They must be able to take part in supporting, designing and (co)shaping purpose-oriented strategies in a creative and collaborative manner.

As a consequence, the roles of classical advisors and designers will merge or at least overlap. Advisory and consulting companies face the challenge to take more responsibility for the operational implementation and use of their analyses, conceptual approaches, strategies and recommendation by, among others, personally participating in the processes. Creatives and designers, on the other hand, have to take more strategic responsibility by actively participating in strategy development and implmenting their knowledge, understanding their role as an important contribution to the companies’ overall development. Today, an increasing number of advisory firms and networks are taking over or merging with design agiencies, which can be seen as a proof that this development is actually happening.[8]

Less silo thinking, more cooperation

Established companies and conventional creative agencies rarely have the culture, resources and attractiveness for digital talent to unleash innovative potential in the required power, range and speed. After all, they have to realize that future business is about “Less silo, more cooperation” [9]. It is becoming increasingly important for established companies to enter into temporary collaboration arragements with other players from various bachgrounds and industries that go far beyond classic models of cooperation.

This requires not only the willingness to think beyond the boundaries of sectors and industries, but also to overcome knowledge silos, take risks and pursue projects with uncertain outcomes in a highly dedicated manner. Corporates must prepare themselves to share resources, knowledge and skills with start-ups, educational institutions, talents, etc. Innovators, on the other hand, must (and can) get used to structures and processes of large and established organizations. What is also needed is a “culture of failure” where mistakes are understood as an acceptable and necessary part of learning, offering no reason for punishment. Furthermore, it is crucial to focus on building innovation ecosystems in order to create cooperative value-creation systems – starting with unclear roles and goals that only might become clear in the course of the further process (or probably not).

With that said, it becomes obvious that there are many hurdles to overcome when it comes to the implementation of a culture of innovation including a facilitating role of strategic design. In the digital world, creative people also have to act as managers, designers as consultants, financial managers as designers. Future success of companies and business models strongly depends on to which extend they will be able to meet these requirements and to keep pace with developments.


[1] With regard for the ‘Mittelstand’ see e.g. PwC: https://www.pwc.de/iamdigital-iotplattform?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIr5qMg7u71wIVazPTCh3FaQDrEAAYBCAAEgJbZfD_BwE

[2] http://www.ey.com/de/de/services/specialty-services/sme-business-services/ey-interviews-michael-marbler-machen-sie-sich-auf-den-digitalen-weg

[3] World Economic Forum, Future of Jobs Report (2016) in: http://reports.weforum.org/future-of-jobs-2016/

[4] „Was tun: kapituliert die Agenturbranche vor der Übermacht der Berater?“ in: http://www.horizont.net/agenturen/kommentare/Was-tun-Kapituliert-die-Agenturbranche-vor-der-uebermacht-der-Berater-161567; https://de.linkedin.com/pulse/rga-deutschlandchef-sascha-martini-agenturen-lernen-m%C3%BCssen-sara-weber

[5] „Was tun: … “ Siehe Anm. 4.

[6] „Was ist eigentlich strategisches Design?“, in: https://page-online.de/branche-karriere/was-ist-eigentlich-strategisches-design/

[7] See also „The DNA of the CFO“: http://www.ey.com/Publication/vwLUAssets/EY_CFO_-_Die_DNA_des_CFO/$FILE/EY-CFO-Die-DNA-des-CFO.pdf

[8] https://groups.google.com/forum/m/#!topic/absatanismo/0HPV9PYItv8

McKinsey acquires Veryday:


BCD acquires Maya Design:

http://blog.wiwo.de/die-consultanten/2017/07/31/bcg-kauft-maya-design/[9] http://www.horizont.net/agenturen/kommentare/Zukunftsfaehigkeit-von-Agenturen-Digitale-Transformation-verschlafen-Nein-wir-sind-mittendrin.-161675



0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *