As our world changes, the challenges to business grow. Old ways of thinking are being replaced by open minds and creativity. Design is playing a central role in helping solve problems and drive the future. We invite you to see how design is shaping the new business.

A Zilver Innovation initiative

The new breed of business designers

Sergejs Groskovs
Mads Clausen Institute for Product Innovation
University of Southern Denmark

Mads Clausen Institute for Product Innovation at the University of Southern Denmark in Sønderborg teaches IT Product Design and Innovation & Business master programmes. As part of their 2011 autumn semester studies, the mixed student teams were challenged to design and build what we call ‘tangible business models’ for a selection of networked companies. Building a tangible business model requires thorough studies of the business in question, its customers and partners, identification of critical challenges, and addressing them in an interactive mechanism — all to provoke and facilitate a qualitative discussion about how to deal with business challenges the companies are facing.

This year the three-week project ran from October 24 to November 10. The ‘Design the New Business’ documentary was finished when the course started, and right from the moment the film was announced I knew we had to see it. The film-makers were very co-operative and kindly allowed to arrange the film screening at our venue. So there we were, in the middle of the Business Design project, looking for inspiration from design and business leaders talking about the fusion of the worlds of business and design. We held a quarter of an hour discussion after the film, and I would like to share some of the impressions with you here.

“This brings a new perspective for me, the interviews are really interesting. The central theme, it seems, is that business needs design.” — Caroline, a current design student who previously studied statistics and commerce in Canada.

“For me it was interesting to find that there are real companies out there, which are in need of people who are doing that, that design is part of business and is not something completely independent. Design is a part of something bigger.” — Rosa, a product design student with background in industrial design from Spain.

These were the first opinions I heard from the audience. And I could hardly disagree with them, being a convinced design thinker myself, who came from the world of cold numbers, structured and linear thinking to experience design first-hand, and will return to business development practice with the enhanced world view and iterative, experimental approaches.

“I think it’s a good film. It makes sense. The film showed examples how a designer creating products now is combining it with business models. In the very beginning, design was done by designers and business by business people. But now we have an example to show to design people, design students, how we can use the concept of business model to innovate by combining the ways business and design work. Business people engage designers to reduce complexity, to make things simpler. The film is good. Very impressive.” — Wenbin, a Business Administration graduate from China currently studying product design.

The audience was quite multi-disciplinary. We were folks from industrial design, business, engineering, computer science, and media. That provoked some stronger arguing from time to time, and also reflections on the relations between our previous experiences and future perspectives, such as the one exhibited by a former engineer taking a step towards design.

“Another thing is that they say designer’s DNA is tools. Again, huh? Is it just down to tools? I don’t think so. This is kind of going backwards for me, who comes from engineering where we learned methods and then applied them in practice. That’s the road I don’t want to travel again. I want to go new ways. Is design a problem solving activity, just like engineering, engineering thinking? Isn’t there more to it?” — Bente, a current design student with a background in electrical engineering and teaching.

We were excited to see Alexander Osterwalder in the film. We use his book Business Model Generation extensively in the Business Design course, while attempting to push the understanding of business modelling further with tangible approaches at the SPIRE Research Centre we are associated with. So it was natural for us to reflect on what we saw in the film and what Alexander had to say in the book.

“In the Osterwalder’s book, there is something about customer emotions. But only two pages, actually. That’s very few compared to all the business models. I think that the needs of customers are undervalued in the business model framework. They always go from business and out to the customers, but not from the customer needs and into the business model. I didn’t see that in the Osterwalder’s book, but the interviews in the film tried to put more emphasis on it.” — Bente.

The film discussion ended with a short dialogue that posed questions of practical implications of the merger of the two worlds. Ultimately it revealed that the point where design meets business is right in the heart of business; it is in the organisation’s business model essentially.

“The movie was about the idea that business people forgot about design in the past, and now they realise that they need design in the business processes, and vice versa. What I missed in the movie, was an explanation of how this happens. Does it actually happen? Or is it just an idea that it should happen? Based on the examples shown in the movie, I see that companies are hiring design consultancies to do user research, design. But is it really working together? How is design integrated with business?” — Claudiu, a current design student with a BSc in computer science and project management experience.

“Business model is this kind of design! How can you say they don’t work together? They work every day, from the beginning to the end.” — Wenbin.

We are looking forward to seeing the extended version of the movie that will hopefully address the issues we found very relevant but not elaborated in too much detail. We would love to see more examples from companies implementing design practices in their strategic operations. Making this documentary was a very hard work, and we are grateful to the film-makers for the effort they put into it, and for promoting the philosophy of design thinking.

Greetings from Denmark!




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