The Function of Design In Business

Did you know that even if you are not a designer, you can still learn design management? As design thinking continues to permeate the halls of top tier MBA programs and executive board rooms, it's important to consider a broader participation in the field that includes those who can commit to understanding the process, allocate necessary resources, and champion creativity as competitive advantage. That could be you! 

Design management begins with a proper valuation for design as a strategic function of a business regardless of tax status. Whether you are CEO of a Fortune 500 company, board member at a nonprofit, or an in-house marketing manager, having the ability to articulate the value of design to stakeholders can help mitigate risk and amplify the possibilities of what the design process is able to produce. What does this mean, exactly? Spoiler - It's not about making things pretty.

Consider The Function of Design in a Company: 

  1. Design Identifies Value
    Leveraging tools, techniques, and perspectives from various fields such as ethnography, sciences, sociology, psychology, and anthropology, design research can help identify people's needs, hopes, and pains. This is fundamental to entrepreneurship and value creation. Furthermore, exposing the multi-disciplinary origins of design thinking methodology can also help executive leaders understand the meaning behind the word. Often times, skepticism about design is a product of erroneaously seeing it as this ambigious magic formula of innovation. Future of Learning Case Study
  2. Design Adds Value
    Design insights inform the production process while working within business constraints such as cost and schedule. The goal of design within a business context is to come up with viable, feasible, and desirable solutions that solve problems and create an advantage in the market. Or as the Eames Studio put it, "The best for the most, for the least." It's also for this reason that design has played a major role in social innovation given the need for extreme affordability and cultural adoption in developing nations and underserved populations. 826LA Case Study
  3. Design Communicates Value
    It is important for all stakeholders to understand the intrinsic value of a product or idea. Design thinking helps make value visible by giving shape and identifying the most viable form of communication. Consider the immense popularity of infographics in the digital era as an example of this principle. A cautious nod to Yale Design Professor, Edward Tufte. UNICEF Case Study

Congratulations! You now understand how design plays a role within a business context. As more executives reach for design thinking as a core capacity, it important to note that it all begins with an understanding of how it creates the conditions for value creation and competitive advantage. Over the last few years we've seen design join the C-Suite with former RISD President John Maeda joining venture capital firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, to design firm acquisitions by big 5 consulting firms.  Many of you have also taken one of the design thinking courses available online. It should be clear, design will play a major role in business moving forward. 

I’ve been arguing for a while that the Fortune 500 companies, they’re interested in design but don’t know how to get it...The easiest way is through a consulting service.
— John Maeda [Source: Wired Magazine]

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Note from the author:
This is part one in a series of short articles on Design Management.