Design is a tool for business. Here’s why…

Ally Binns | July 13, 2020

Time to read: 5 mins

The cherry on the cake

We find that lots of people restrict their view of design to just aesthetics— the cherry on the cake, adding a thin veneer of luxury to a brand’s outer image. When I tell people I’m a designer; they immediately think I spend my days making things ‘look pretty’. They’re not entirely wrong; we do make things look very pretty.

However, any designer worth their salt will attest that design aspires towards so much more than beauty. The purpose of a designer is to relentlessly pursue visual storytelling that engages, informs, and inspires. We problem-solve. It is a process, not a product and applies to all walks of life. So what makes design a tool for business? 

Design as a tool for business success

Design is making sense of things

Let’s start with the bigger picture. The etymology of design goes back to the Latin de+ signare. It means, “making something, distinguishing it by a sign, giving it significance, designing its relation to other things, owner or users”. Based on this original meaning, you could say ‘design is making sense of things’ – Krippendorff. 

From a modern perspective, an increasing number of businesses are starting to use design strategically – to make sense of things. There is a growing need for design thinking within industries to differentiate from the competition and build a sustainable and resilient brand. 

Design as a tool for problem solving

Using design as a tool

Design can function at multiple levels and in different ways. From my short time within the industry, I’m convinced business leaders unknowingly practise design regularly. They continually design structures, projects and strategies, all with the end-user in mind.

“Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones”.– Herbert Simon

Design and business are both focused on ‘devising courses of action’. What most companies lack are the design tools that complement their business skills. By working together and applying human-centred methodologies, businesses can create much more profound meaning within their brand, unlocking their creative potential and delivering even more value to their end-user.

Here are some juicy stats from the Design Council, highlighting the value of using design as a tool for business: 

  • Shares in design-led businesses outperform key stock market indices by 200%
  • Every £100 a design- alert business spends on design increases turnover by £225.
  • Almost half of all UK businesses believe that, over the past decade, design has become more important in helping them maintain a competitive edge.

Design for strategy

A recipe for success

“In order to survive in today’s complex world, organisations need to generate, embrace, and execute on new ideas. That takes creativity and a creatively capable workforce. It’s the secret sauce, or in evolutionary terms, it’s what keeps you fit. Organisations without it can’t compete”. – Tim Brown 

Design has evolved. It has moved from the “traditional concept of the visual artefact through to orchestrating interactions and experiences, and to transforming systems”. This can be seen in Richard Buchanan’s ‘Four Orders of Design‘. 

Design Thinking as a tool

To bring great ideas forward, business people and designers need to continue to collaborate. Working together and sharing tools will allow us to bring insights to life, building strong connections between user needs and business goals. 

As humans, we are programmed to be attracted to beautiful things. Something shiny and pretty will always catch our eye. But, excellent design thinking is not just the cherry on top. It’s the entire recipe for success.

In the end, good design boils down to solving problems, elegantly. However, using design as a tool for business will lead to functionally and emotionally satisfying solutions that are much more focused on the needs of people. Incorporating design can make strategy, structures and processes beautiful too. 

I believe design can open up valuable opportunities for any business; all you need are the right ingredients.