Designing growth

TM talks to John Mathers, CEO of the Design Council about a new partnership with EEF to help SMEs identify their strengths and design strong growth strategies.

John Mathers, CEO, Design Council

The Design Council and manufacturing trade body EEF announced their new partnership yesterday.

The collaboration targets SMEs and hopes to help ambitious companies expand and become more profitable through better use of design thinking.

Martin Temple, EEF’s chairman, welcomed the partnership during a networking break at EEF’s National Manufacturing Conference. In a private interview with The Manufacturer, John Mathers, CEO of the Design Council explained the value proposition being developed for SMEs in the manufacturing sector.

“The partnership will build on and expand the work we already conduct with SMEs,” says Mathers.

The Design Council has worked with around 2,000 SMEs over the past decade, introducing design thinking with what Mathers says are often “staggering results”.

What is design and design thinking?

Defining more clearly what the Design Council means by design and design thinking for organisations, Mathers continues: “A lot of people think about design as something cosmetic – something decorative which is added at the end of a process.

“But design thinking is essentially a different approach to problem solving.”

Mathers says that the best examples of design thinking benefits exist in case studies where the Design Council has helped an organisation “fundamentally change the way a company thinks about itself, change the ambition it has for itself and allow it to rethink the way it offers its products and services or connects with its customers.”

Clearly identifying and understanding customer desires and requirements and aligning products, services and business infrastructure to deliver that is the bed rock of organisational and industrial development according to the design council.

“This is what designers are trained to do. It comes totally naturally to them,” Mathers observes.

The new partnership between EEF and the Design Council will allow more manufacturers to develop design skills and design thinking throughout their business and operations.

Gripple example

An example of a manufacturer that has already benefitted from working with the Design Council is Sheffield-based Gripple which makes wire joiners and fasteners.

The company has recently won multiple Queen’s Awards for Innovation and received attention from politicians, industry bodies and investors following a period of rapid global expansion.

In part this success is built on Gripple’s collaboration with the Design Council between 2007 and 2011.

“We helped them understand what, at their heart, they were really good at,” Mathers recalls. “Once a company understands this then you can begin to design skills sets, routes into new markets and new ways of doing things in the business.”

Rigorous analysis has shown that this “design intervention” in Gripple’s business led directly to a doubling of turnover claims Mathers.

Next steps

EEF and the Design Council are now planning a series of events and a regional awareness raising campaign in order to educate more manufacturers about the ability of design thinking to help rationalise and realise growth ambitions.

“The secret to spreading the success we have already achieved with many SMEs is to gain access to ambitious organisations,” says Mathers. “So this partnership with EEF provides a fantastic opportunity for us to reach innovative members. I suspect they will be very willing participants.”

More news on this new partnership will be forthcoming soon.