Is your business fulfilling its growth potential or is it lacking dynamism? Design and ‘design thinking’ are highly effective tools that drive sales, enhance products and services, boost channels and add real value to brands – they are a proven means of innovation and growth. Paul Stead examines the opportunities.
Some businesses still regard design – or design thinking – as an afterthought that doesn’t have a place at their top table; something that simply focuses on making new products more aesthetically pleasing.
This viewpoint is obsolete and misses the fundamental benefits and real value that design can add to many aspects of any manufacturer’s operations.
Design’s real value means a number of things. Used effectively, design can help drive the figures to enhance revenue and reduce costs. Design can also be used to help define that killer strategy and achieve greater success. Today, most design agencies offer their experience in building strategy through insights gained by working with a wide array of organisations with different problem states.
Unlike management consultants, design consultants transform intangible ideas and strategies into real-world experiences. They turn the invisible into the visible. The most obvious example is the origination and development of new products or the evolution of existing ones.
Creating real products that are manufactured, packaged and sold is an obvious role for design. A less obvious, but potentially more important, role is the intangible, invisible customer experience. Designing how a customer ‘feels’ before and after purchase is a key skill that all manufacturers need to consider – and remember, this is relevant in both B2B and B2C sectors.
Furthermore, as design’s terrain has expanded to encompass human-centred processes and services as well as products, smart companies are asking designers to create ideas rather than simply dressing them up.
The best way to explain how design can be used as a tool to help manufacturers is to share some real-world case studies of design in action.
Design thinking case study:
How to refresh a business that makes shows
This example shows how design helped a UK business become more relevant to its customers, delivered a better customer experience and made a statement in the market that increased the awareness of its products and brand.
The company has a well-known brand of domestic shower units and fittings with a significant market share. Their immediate customer was the trade – plumbers and interior design specifiers who make their purchase decisions based on previous experience, recommendation and catalogue exposure.
The key problem was slowing growth and they were struggling to understand why, and what to do.
1. Understand the business problem
In the same way a doctor needs to diagnose the cause of a patient’s symptoms, a business needs to understand the real issues that are causing pain points. These may be obvious, but there are often subtle or difficult-to-face issues that a business will not see for itself.
This is why a vital part of using design as a tool is to gain an independent perspective. For the shower brand, we discovered several areas that needed attention.
2. Prioritise alternative approaches
There were four key problems that came out of reviewing the business through a design lens – some based on customer feedback (qualitative) some from sales data (quantitative). All needed solving.
- Products felt cheap, with poor finishes, cosmetic appearance and controls
- Sample displays in retail/ trade outlets were often broken and out of date
- Trade/plumbers needed to be convinced the products were easy to install
- Consumers saw the brand as tired and not relevant to them.
3. Design, prototype and in-market test
To solve these problems, we used a series of design tools.
- Comparison tool – Looking at the function and user experience of other non-shower products – such as the NEST Thermostat – we identified some key improvements
- POS update – By redesigning and updating the point-of-sale display formats we emphasised the ease-of-installation story to the trade
- Trade information tool – A new set of training and product information tools were created to improve the ordering process, product knowledge and e-commerce
- PR / brand awareness campaign – Devised to increase end-user engagement andoverall brand perception. One example involved installing branded showers in VIP facilities at events such as Glastonbury.
4. Delivery and growth
None of these were quick fixes – the solutions involved design, prototyping, revision, in-market testing and fine engineering before final launch. But all played their part in solving the problem of re-energising a tired brand and revitalising customer appeal and confidence, which, as every manufacturer knows, is hard to win and easy to lose.