Design matters?

Posted on 8 Oct 2016 by The Manufacturer

As Brexit Britain redefines its role in the EU and wider world is design a real priority? Dr Paul Stead argues that using design and design thinking as competitive weapons has never been more important.

Battle of Britain command and control centres
In Battle of Britain command and control centres, massive amounts of information were absorbed and presented in real time, enabling rapid management decisions to be reached.

With “Brexit meaning Brexit” – but ‘Brexit’ lacking definition – UK plc is left wondering what the future holds.

Whatever happens, manufacturers will have to navigate uncharted waters while continuing to keep their production lines running.

For now there is much business as usual, but this is laced with greater uncertainty. And with uncertainty comes risk; with risk comes the danger of inertia and a lack of innovation.

So, although ‘design matters’ in many people’s minds, it is not currently top of their list. New developments are being delayed until the future is clearer because many have a narrow view of design as the creative expression of the product, service or brand.

Design thinking

There is another perspective, the emergence of design thinking, which puts design at the heart of decision-making.

Currently, few consider using design as a strategic tool to visualise alternative business strategies or to plot the course of a business, let alone to imagine new areas where business can play, win, and discover future profits.

Dr Paul Stead, The Brewery Group - PQ Oct 2016Design thinking is more human, iterative and collaborative than traditional approaches to decision making. It requires moving away from the tactical, in order to understand strategic motivations and gain insights into needs through user empathy.

Design thinking has a bias to action; it utilises quick, iterative prototype cycles – less for validation, and more for probing and indicating direction.

An exemplar is Battle of Britain command and control centres, where massive amounts of information were absorbed and presented in real time, enabling rapid management decisions to be reached.

Today’s CAD-CAM and VR/augmented reality systems use considerably updated visualisation techniques, but all too often they remain the domain of engineering, design and manufacturing, rather than as tools to enhance overall business performance.

Design and business strategy should go hand in hand, and design thinking should percolate through all aspects of business, from the way teams are built, projects managed, and marketplaces understood, to gaining key insights into ecosystems and customers, co-creating with customers and understanding competitive threats.

Dr Paul Stead, The Brewery Group - Bio Oct 2016The key point is that when people join together in the design process to achieve a goal, they can overcome bigger challenges and find original ways forward.

Designing growth and productivity

Over the next year, I will use this column to share insights and methodologies to explain how my design thinking has developed, and how the Brewery Group has used design strategically to help clients grow, enter new markets, drive profitability and unlock productivity.

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