Design In/Is Business


Leveraging design and design teams to increase competitive advantage is getting more notice in large organizations thanks in part to events like the Design Management Institute’s (DMI) “Re-Thinking…The Future of Design” conference in San Francisco this past June. Key design leaders across a broad spectrum of industries shared conversations on stage about how they used design thinking tools to create value for, and facilitate change in, their organization.

What struck me most is that design teams increasingly seem to also serve as innovation teams for the business. John Fly, the VP of Strategic Planning at Miliken & Company talked about successful designers being able to toggle between solving both business problems and design problems and often solving business problems with design solutions. The biggest hurdle in this process usually comes from finding a common business/design language. However, understanding the business inside and out increases credibility and leads to better decisions for the business.

I was most focused on what Bob Schwartz, GM of Global Design for GE Healthcare had to say because of my personal interest in improving healthcare through design thinking. His decades in design management had obviously honed his business navigation skills and it was through a combination of analogies, storytelling techniques, and an empathy workshop that he was able to build consensus and unify his design team of 46, spread over 5 countries.

Pushing empathy as a key driver for design and business decisions led to the redesign of several GE products – particularly in the pediatric space where the design team created a MRI scanner and scanning process from the perspective of a child. A story was developed for the children to engage in before they came for the office visit and the scanner room maintained the story’s imagery throughout. This environment reduced anxiety during the procedure and ultimately improved test results. The success from this storytelling approach filtered to the sales force and acted as a powerful motivator to increase sales.

My hope is that more examples like this will bubble to the surface and motivate investment in design teams and the value of design thinking processes across the entire organization. Giving every business team the license to think creatively and more empathetically will foster solutions to support humanity and not just the bottom line.

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