The Benefits of Emphasizing Design for Small Business

Design for Small Business

In the excellent book, The Strategic Designer, author David Holston makes the following astute observation about a reality of doing business in today’s world:

“Businesses, like designers, need to be in a constant state of ideation. Design gives firms a competitive advantage in overcrowded markets by identifying unique value and connecting audiences, as well as reacting quickly to social trends.”

Holston goes on to talk about process, which is essential to design and no less important to businesses. Businesses that are succeeding in standing out and attracting clients are effectively incorporating design and design thinking/process in their own business culture and customer engagement strategies.

Design cannot change an organization’s core principles or philosophy, nor does it alone constitute a business strategy. A company still must provide quality, affordable goods or products and responsive, friendly customer service. Design can, however, amplify these efforts and reinforce these and other positive aspects of an organization’s brand. Employees with a design-oriented background are increasingly in demand by businesses for strategic business-focused roles because designers are inherently question askers and problem solvers.

In admiration of some of the most successful firms and brands in the world that have used design as a key component of their business growth strategy, the business world is, in large part undergoing a shift in the way design is considered as a formal part of business strategy. An emphasis on design or design thinking is not appropriate approach for every industry, but even if your firm or organization cannot emphasize design, you should seriously consider embracing it. Based on my own research and observation, here are three ways that a shift to embracing design and design thinking can positively impact an organization:

Dialogue: A Culture of Creative Problem-Solving

Design can be leveraged to establish or reinforce a culture of creative problem solving. Using techniques central to the design process, such as agile team construction and methods, the narrow, team or individual-based system can give way to a more collaborative, open-source way of tackling issues. This can in turn, benefit communication and solidify ideas or perhaps push them even further. Ideas can be conceived and explored quickly. User-focused experience is included in development. Embracing an open-source problem-solving method can bring more quality ideas to the table and yield interesting results and opportunities. This, in turn, can improve and reshape the creative culture or an organization as waves of new thought and ideas flood the business process.

Diversion: Create Delight and Escape

Design can be used to help stimulate creativity in employees. It can shake things up within your organization in a good way by positing problems that require creative solutions. It can also actually stimulate innovation and ideation that spills over into other aspects of the operation. Lastly, design can just help to break up the monotony of office life. It can create wonder, joy, and offer a place to escape to. Sometimes we just need to take a break and enjoy beauty, man-made and natural. Design creates and facilitates these opportunities.

Distinction: Rallying Cry

Design can also provide a rallying cry, a “standard”, as in a flag used in battle. This is often in the form of a strong visual identity, underpinned by real values. Along these lines, design can be used to unify, in a modern work environment where roles, salaries, organizational structure and specialization and outsourcing may divide and marginalize. Also, in helping to create a strong, recognizable visual brand and consumer touch points, design helps to distinguish one organization from another. People respond positively to the brands they see and know. Design can aid in this effort.

Embracing design and design thinking is a good for business! In ways great and small, it lifts spirits, unites, challenges and creates opportunities for small businesses to stand out and grow.

Reggie Holmes is a child of the early 1980′s, a native of Richmond, VA who expressed an interest in design before he even knew what it was. A graduate of the University of Miami with a BFA in Graphic Design, he returned to Virginia after school and worked in several different creative (and non-creative) positions before forming Enthuse Creative in 2013. His goal is to develop a strong solo design practice that contributes locally and influences globally through branding and design while inspiring others to joy and creativity.

Source: The Strategic Designer, 2011, How Books/F+W Media
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Design Thinking: Understanding Creative Process for Small Business

According to Ellen Lupton, author/editor of Graphic Design Thinking: Beyond Brainstorming, “The concept design thinking commonly refers to the processes of ideation, research, prototyping and user interaction (p. 5).”

Design thinking is what really fuels what we might call the “creative process”. I am personally a proponent of the phrase “design thinking” because it rightly places the emphasis on “thinking.” Consider the term “brainstorming.” Often, the focus is on the “storming” and not on the “brain,” especially when it comes to creative professionals. Designers have not helped their own cause by sometimes lording over the design process as if it were a sacred ancient ritual.

Often the creative process is something that is, in my opinion, unnecessarily shrouded in mystery to clients and consumers of design services. I have found, in my short time as a professional creative serving small businesses and organizations, that transparency into the design process is good for me and for my clients. Upon entering the field as the owner of a creative services operation, this was something I was encouraged to do through books and other professionals. I was, however, reluctant to change at first. Many potential clients I now speak to are surprised to learn how much creativity is systematic rather than just spontaneous. Successful designers recognize the need for both.

A creative process is beneficial to both parties. Process allows the designer’s creativity to become reproducible and marketable and it provides a measure of trust and confidence for the client. It is reminiscent of some of those complicated, higher-level math problems from high school calculus. Of course, we want to deliver a successful design solution at the end of the process, but we also need to be able to show our work. Often, how a problem solver arrived as his solution is as valuable as the solution itself.

Unfortunately, an attitude that I sometimes encounter goes a bit like this: “Can’t you just sit down at the computer and make something eye-popping happen on the screen in a flash!” Yes, it should be expected that professional designers work efficiently and effectively, but value in design for business is created and sustained by communicating a message consistent with an established brand strategy. A solution may, upon viewing, elicit oohs and ahhs, but fail to function well as a form of business communication. This is what sets graphic design, as communication-centric art, apart from fine arts, which champions individual expression. The deliverable can’t just look good, it must communicate well.

Creative problem solving has value for all types of businesses. That being said, all aspects of the creative process are valuable. Designers and other business creatives must help clients understand the conceptual aspects of what they do and business leaders must respect and appreciate the vital conceptual components of the creative process. Innovation has always been powered by designers who think and thinkers who design.

Most small business owners and employees have heard and likely used the expression “back to the drawing board” when an idea or strategy has proven unsuccessful. For creative problem solvers who are trusted by businesses and organizations to create valuable communication tools, the “thinking” is as important as the “drawing.”

Sources: Graphic Design Thinking: Beyond Brainstorming. Ellen Lupton, editor. Princeton Architectural Press, New York. 2011