We've talked about business design on this blog before, remember? Well, since then, it hasn't gone away. On the contrary, actually. Therefore, we thought we'd talk about it a little bit more (if you don't mind), and look into why you might want to consider having one in your design team.
What exactly do business designers do?
To boil it down into a sentence: business designers essentially apply design thinking to traditional business strategy to find new opportunities for growth. Of course there's a lot more to it than that, we know.
Design Thinking is just one of several methodologies or techniques that business designers use to do what they do. But there's others too.
In the past, we've also talked about how the business design practice takes pieces and processes from other categories like Lean Startup to tackle business-related problems of growth, value proposition and finding new revenue sources.
How do they do it?
We like to think that the 'trick' to business design is finding the balance between innovation, creativity and commercial competitiveness. One institution that is passionate about this business/design balance is [The Rotman School of Management](the rotman school of management) (the University of Toronto's graduate business school). For more than 10 years, it has been considered to be one of the global leaders when it comes to teaching Design Thinking.
Heather Fraser, who's an author and professor of Business Design at Rotman, thinks that to be an excellent business designer you basically need:
“It’s a combination of the right mindset (being) and a rigorous methodology (doing) that unlocks a person’s thinking.”
Much like our 'what if?' questions in each deck of Triggers cards, part of a business designer's creative process starts by challenging limits in order to find new market opportunities. One of the 'typical' processes involved in this is 'stealing like an artist' — looking at other companies, industries and experiences in order to find out how they (successfully) solved their problems. Business designers call this benchmarking.
As well as that, they also investigate and help define:
USPs (what makes the business special or different from its competitors
business models (how does it actually make money from what it's providing/selling)
culture (the way the business is structured and how it attracts the right talent)
revenue sources (other possible ways it can make money)
Why business design is on the rise
Traditionally, businesses have tackled their problems with a combination of data, analysis and strategy. If you think about it, that's pretty much what a designer does, isn't it? It's no surprise to us here at Triggers, therefore, to see more and more companies applying a design mindset to business these days. In the fight to keep a competitive advantage, it's becoming an important method.
This is where business designers play the lead role. And more and more companies are starting to demand them as part of their talent.
Who is 'doing' business design?
'Human-centred design' is nothing new. In fact, a lot of the famous Silicon Valley tech names you've probably got bored of hearing now practice it as a standard:
Slack talks about putting 'people, not features, first'
Google launched a whole video series on human-centred design
Apple has guidelines for designing a 'human interface' (although the way they've worded it is a bit worrying – it sounds like they're working on interfaces for other species in secret!)
IBM even says, quite boldly, that human-centred design is critical to solving problems with technology
You get the picture. Pretty much everyone these days is applying what is also known as the Design Thinking methodology to the way they create their products and services. A quick search (try: 'design thinking businesses') and you'll discover a whole bunch of articles talking about how Design Thinking:
'could be the key to successful innovation' (Forbes)
'leads to extraordinary improvements' (Harvard Business Review)
Basically, it works. Now imagine applying this mindset to some of the more traditional but proven business tactics. So you have the best of the business world and the best of the design world. This method – a way of tackling business problems from a more human perspective – is what's known as business design.
Why you might want to consider hiring a business designer
If you work for a design consultancy – especially if it specialises in Service Design – adding a business design perspective to your team talents could be a game-changer.
After all, as an agency, small studio or even as a freelancer, you're a business too and we've already seen how business designers can make a difference to other people's businesses. Why not apply it to your own?
And then there is the issue of how you can improve what you offer to your clients. Once you have the capacity to able to shift from designing a human-centred product to designing a human-centred business, the impact you can have increases. All of a sudden, you're able to offer clients not only a better product or service but also a better business model — one that's long term and takes into consideration how people (both internal and external to the business) change the behaviours, mindsets and mental models.
If you're not sure whether you're ready to actually hire a business designer right now, there's still some important questions you can start asking during your creative process in order to start thinking like a business designer. Why not take a look at our Business Design Deck to see what some of those questions are?
Meanwhile, we'll be back soon to look at business design from another angle.