Design as a catalyst for growth

    Ross Haddow

    A designers’ mindset and design-led approach can be valuable tools to drive the growth of your business

    The Designers' Mindset

    Because of the day-to-day constraints that companies face, a lot of management time has to be committed to short-term issues - controlling known challenges and using critical thinking to tackle specific problems so that they (hopefully) disappear.

    This raises a number of key questions: How do you best plan for the longer-term, especially when the future is an uncertain place? How do you deal with unknowns? How do you tackle problems that are too diffuse to manage away?

    This is where a design-led approach to business thinking can really help. Adopting the designers’ mindset brings a unique perspective to the solution of business problems and can be a powerful catalyst to instigate change. This approach is effective because it has three very important attributes:

    It is future focused

    Designing is a creative act, the purpose of which is to conceive of and realise something new. The design-led approach is a way of looking at what might be - a mechanism for exploring, evaluating and shaping the future.

    It is action orientated

    Designers learn by doing. They use sketching and prototyping to develop solutions quickly, rapidly iterating improvements based on real-world feedback. Adopting the designers’ mindset keeps projects moving forward and builds momentum to deliver the desired change.

    It is results driven

    By focusing on the end goal rather than immediate problems, designers are adept at finding new paths to explore and different angles of attack. Thinking like a designer therefore offers a way to get to solutions more quickly, stopping you from being over-awed by the immediate challenges you face. As such, the designers’ mindset is a great way to deal with messy, complex, and ill-defined problems (the type often found in business).

    Use the design process to accelerate progress

    Design is a skill that takes practice. But, be assured, we are not suggesting that your managers become designers. What we are suggesting is that your managers use a design-led approach to engage their teams and tap into the creative potential of their people.

    One way to do this is to form a Design Team and get them to implement a design process initiative. Ideally such a team should be made up of a diverse range of skills, opinions and viewpoints. From a business change perspective, you should be ideally looking for a blend of frontline experts, experts at scaling (e.g. marketers, HR, IT) and those with an eye for innovation.

    There are many design process models your Design Team might employ, but they all have a number of common themes. Here's one approach that you might think about using:

    1. Confirm strategic intent

    Choose a positive goal. Ensure it is aligned to your overall strategy and that it will have a real impact on either your customer or your team. Provide direction, resources and commitment to show your serious about hitting this target.

    2. Discover

    Gather data. Talk to people. Understand and empathise with unmet needs. Look for patterns and insights. Question assumptions and scope.

    3. Ideate

    Experiment and explore opportunities. Explain, sketch and bring your ideas to life. Envision the future and feed off each other's creativity.

    4. Prototype

    Think big, act small. Build the minimum viable product. Fail fast and learn from mistakes. Learn from users. Refine and improve.

    5. Deploy

    Test, approve and launch. Set up feedback mechanisms and monitor the results.

    6. Iterate and scale

    Take what you've learned and make the most of it. Find new ways to use your design, or find new opportunities to exploit.

    Get your team thinking like designers for long-term growth

    Injecting design-led thinking into your business can have a significant effect on the rate of change and the performance of your business.

    You can bring in external help to bolster your design chops, but it’s by developing this type of thinking within your team that you will allow you to build their capabilities over the long-term.