Why design is becoming more important to business than ever before

Design is enjoying a moment in the sun. In 2015, the UK design economy generated £71.7bn in gross value added (GVA), equivalent to 7.2 per cent of total GVA according to the Design Council.

And those in design are more productive, too. Workers with a design element to their role are 41 per cent more productive than the average. Tech, consulting and financial companies are taking note, acquiring design agencies at an unprecedented rate. IBM has snapped up three design agencies this year alone.

It is no wonder design has become more important to business than ever before. It’s a vehicle by which brands can express themselves across an increasingly complex ecosystem of spaces. It’s a mind-set to solve complex business challenges. And it is the means by which companies build emotional connections and stay on the leading edge of change.

While some companies, bogged down by years of antiquated processes, have been quick to adapt the mindset of design thinking, most have yet to harness the craft’s full potential. The following imperatives seek to unpack the precepts and principles of design, to help businesses convert their strategies into beautiful, simple and meaningful work.

Align creativity with strategy

Design can be transformational, but only when the creative vision and business strategy are seamlessly aligned. Companies should look internally at the culture, DNA and capabilities of the brand while also understanding the broader, external context.

Innocent’s commitment to sustainable, wholesome nutrition is infused into everything the company does. Its flirtatious logo and playful packaging are obvious examples of this, but look a little deeper and you can see how the brand translates its purpose into subtle design choices. On the website, a friendly tone of voice greets you. Ingredients are reported with pride, and total transparency. Packaging is produced with the lowest possible carbon impact. Collectively, these elements help express Innocent’s purpose with meaning — as a human brand committed to making “healthy drinks that help people live well and die old.”

Craft the end-to-end experience

Brand expression is no longer just about what a company says; it’s also about what it does and how it makes the customer feel. In fact, for many of today’s most innovative and up-and-coming brands, it’s the experience that is driving growth and differentiation. These companies are harnessing the power of design to craft experiences that immerse customers in a bigger, emotionally centered idea — an idea reinforced at every stage of the customer journey.

Recently, the BBC launched BBC+ to tie together its digital services into one, manageable, curated experience. Part of a wider effort to join up the customer journey, the move emphasiSes the company’s commitment to delivering better, more personaliSed experiences.

We’re seeing this across industries, with design playing a leading role in the creation of differentiated, end-to-end customer experiences. DPDgroup didn’t just launch a new brand, it expanded its services to make convenience for the customer a reality. Uber Eats offered customers its seamless door-to-door traveling experience, just in lunch form. These are all examples of companies that understand that differentiated, end-to-end experiences have become the expectation, and the new norm.

Design for the on-demand age

Today, brands speak with visual and verbal elements that echo the soundbites of texting and social media. Symbols have become more iconic, language more conversational and actions more playful. And brand identities have become more fluid and adaptive than ever before.

This on-demand age has given birth to a new style of identity design, driven by a new palette of scrolls, swipes, taps, motions and auditory cues. Channel 4 deconstructed its signature “4” logo into a series of free flowing idents. The icon of Milk Music, Samsung’s streaming radio offering, is in constant flux, tuning to the tastes and moods of the user.

Create space for joy and seduction

In today’s always-on world, consumers are confronted daily with an overload of information. Most businesses are already using design to help consumers make sense of this chaotic landscape with intuitive interfaces, simplified messages and streamlined experiences. Yet simplification alone is not enough. Design must create space for joy and seduction.

While Apple and Ikea's design language embraces simplification, it is so that they can find ways to surprise, delight and stimulate the senses. This is what customers fall in love with, and what differentiates these brands from their competitors. Google is another example: simple, uncluttered and perceived as effortless, yet whimsical and joyful thanks to the daily graphic surrounding the search box. The result is a brand with an inherent experiential capacity to engage, delight and surprise.

While the traditional mission of design was to ensure a consistent presentation of the brand, design’s role has changed. A digital revolution, dramatically expanding set of touchpoints, shorter attention spans and shrinking life cycles all lead to a heightened need to break through with increased vitality and dimension.

Design is to business what evolution is to nature: it enables brands to change and survive. It is becoming less a visual strategy than a means of facilitating continuous dialogue and building emotional connections in a complex world. And with it, opening up infinite opportunities for businesses. The best design today embraces this new reality. It creates experiences steeped in the business strategy. It celebrates the new and the unexpected. And it adapts to maintain relevance and vitality in a time where change is the only constant.

Connie Birdsall is creative director at Lippincott

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