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 In conven­tional (and outdated) under­standing, design is something that is brought into play by management to perform a partial task, such as product design or adver­tising, packaging, etc.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 coöpe­rative 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 coöpe­ration

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 coöpe­ration” [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 coöpe­ration.

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 coöpe­rative 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