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January 25th, 2019

The Design of Business | The Business of Design

Late last fall, my Creative Director and I had the pleasure of spending a beautiful weekend in New Haven, CT. No, “leaf-peeping” was not our first priority, although we did see nature majestically transform before our eyes, confirming the reality that change is constant. Both metaphorically and literally. Yes, change is coming, regardless of our disposition toward it.

More specifically, we were searching for further evidence of a change in thinking and behavior. We were attending an awe-inspiring conference, “The Design of Business | The Business of Design,” hosted by AIGA and Design Observer, held at the Yale School of Management, and including industry leaders, founders, CEOs, and designers. Our mission was to ponder, discuss, and hear case studies with this hypothesis in mind:

If design is critical to the success of the modern business enterprise, what are the core values and best practices that support that success? What impact is design itself having on the practice and process of business? And what does the business of design actually look like? 

What we observed, heard, and learned only reaffirmed many of our existing beliefs, based on where our own business is and where it’s headed. I’ve bundled them into these four easy-to-digest groups.

1. The C-Suite Is Changing

It does not matter what App you open, what magazine, web site, or blog you read, the word “design” pops up everywhere. DESIGN is the most overused and most misunderstood word [except maybe “Brand”] in modern business. However, both words are among the most important to your business’s future.

“Design Thinking,” a process BOLTGROUP has practiced since its inception, is now a resume qualifier for executives. McKinsey recently released a report on the value of design. Are we witnesses to a sea change in the C-suite? Have the boardroom doors been flung open to invite design a seat at the table? Perhaps. Large corporations like IBM, PepsiCo, and others have brought design to the center of the organizations, mimicking the Apples, Nikes, and Herman Millers of the world, who have long revered design as a business practice and process, as is evident through their business performance.

IBM now assigns a design principal and team to every unit of their business organizations, looking to develop and drive best practices from a human-centered perspective. PepsiCo’s global design officer and his team report directly to the CEO.

2. Good Design Is Good Business

Chairman and CEO of IBM from 1952 and 1971, Thomas J. Watson once declared rightly, “Good design is good business.” But somehow, over the last 40 years, business has lost its way. Or never got on the path in the first place. Organizational best practices (except for R&D and perhaps new product development) did not understand or didn’t buy into what design was and is—an all-pervasive and ongoing activity. (Not even marketing for the most part, which one might think would quickly adopt design as norm.) Design is a process. A discipline. A systematic way of thinking and doing. It collects input from thoughtful research and creative thinking, then uses a human-centered approach to turn those insights and ideas into meaningful innovation. When deployed in every aspect of your business, thoughtfully and consistently, design becomes good business. It affects the culture and the bottom line from every perspective—from efficiency to valuation, from innovation to ROI.

3. The Value of Design Is Increasing The Value of Business

Design-led businesses identified in the Design Value Index (DVI) outperformed those on the S&P 500 by more than 200% from 2004 to 2014. With numbers like that, how can any CEO not be moving mountains to bring design into their business’s culture and central core? (Unless they are on their way out.) As CEO, your primary responsibility is to bring shareholder wealth and business success. What better way to do that, and fulfill the true purpose of your organization, than to introduce, re-instill or re-invigorate design as the most central, most cultural, and perhaps most important part of your business?

4. Design Is Everything

We are a design innovation firm. We design brands, products, and experiences that people love. (Including Award Jurors!) Our belief is that design is everything. Design, as a practice and a process, when deployed properly within your organization, can and will provide insights that inform critical decisions that make business easier, more effective, more unique, more desirable, more believable, more ownable, more defensible, and more sustainable. Every touchpoint of an organization, from brand to product to communication—both internal and external—is influenced and made easier by design.

Integrating design as a core element of your business is no longer a luxury, if it ever was. It is a necessity. Design is always present. It can be intentional and planned, or it can be unintentional and unplanned. The latter is why thousands of businesses fall short of their potential.

2019 is about change. For us, it is also about design, as it has been every year for the past 33 (and counting). We’re here to help a select clientele find that convergence of design and change that moves their brand and product forward to a position of preference in the marketplace. Because the design of business is the business of design.

We should know.

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