How to get involved earlier in projects.
About two years ago we published a thought piece on the design of your business - viewing it as just another design problem and applying the thinking that you apply to client projects to the design of your business.
Part two considers some proven approaches to growing your business from other design disciplines as ideas for you to ponder on, specifically how adding the disciplines of Design Research and Design Thinking can help you re-position and grow a design firm.
Businesses can scale in a combination of two main ways. Think of them as the titles for the axes on a Boston Matrix: scale and different offers. The most common driver for manufacturing is through scale, or more of the same. The second way to grow used by many services industries, like design, involves increasing the number of service offers that use the same or similar processes, but need different knowledge/vertical specific information. Think adding Product Design, Graphic Design, User Interface design, practices to your design firm.
Few design firms have been able to become industry leaders though scale. Creativity and scale are not intimate bedfellows! Adding parallel service offers has been the main way to grow a design firm.
All that changed in the early nineties as a massive change in the underlying technology fueling the global economy. It involved digital technology, connectivity, data and the Internet which we now refer to as the Information or digital revolution.
The changes the technology shift brought to design have been more significant than any of us could have imagined and are on going today.
As digital technology products and connectivity started to accelerate in the early nineties, it very quickly became apparent that developed economies were shifting from fixed functions to platforms that could do anything for the consumer.
Designers were confronted with the question “what problems are we trying to solve for the user with all this technology?” Product design firms specifically started to develop design research processes to understand the customer and articulate their processes as separate from creating the artifacts as the “Design Thinking” process to solve the myriad new problems identified by the design (user) research. Adding design research and design thinking services resulted in “design” being pushed up the value chain for companies. This has not yet happened in Experiential Graphic Design.
Experiential Designers face the same question today and the answer is no less complex than it was for product and graphic design 20 years ago i.e., what problems will digital technology solve for visitors and how can it improve the experience of space in meaningful ways?
Market research processes provide answers to what people are thinking, not how they actually behave using products/services or what issues they really have using these solutions. Enter Design Research, the front end of our design process, parsed off and developed specifically to deliver insights (not artifacts) about user behavior and a huge opportunity for design to re-position itself within projects. Over the past 20 years, design research has developed into a full-blown discipline.
Have you considered growing your business using design research to build a strong data/insights driven knowledge base about how consumers behave in spaces? This knowledge can get you engaged at a higher level in projects. After all, who wants to risk building something that the visitor may not need or understand?
Become the partner in the project that has the deeper understanding of the users behavior in the space through design research. By taking this on this research work, you are far more likely to be called on earlier to inform the overall design of projects over time.
Design research projects tend to uncover interesting insights that often do not point to the type of simple solutions that were created during the industrial revolution. It did not take a big leap for designers to realize that their way of working and their creative process could just as easily be used for creative problem solving on all the new problems that the user research was uncovering. Referring to our process as Design Thinking has resulted in a giant leap forward in terms of business people understanding that we have a separate process to offer them to help solve their problems as compared to their analytical, deductive processes.
Offering a combination of Design Research and Design Thinking could lead you to become involved earlier and at a more strategic level in projects adding a higher value offer on top of your already solid Experiential Graphic Design services.
What Experiential Graphic Design firm does not want to become involved earlier in the process? We know it's one of the hot buttons in the profession. Could these service offers be the way to get there?
Resources: there are a lot of resources for design thinking on the web, just about every business is building a competence in Design Thinking now days, but here are a few reliable ones.
The Stanford D-School provides well thought through information, tools and sample workshops on Design Thinking. IBM have a comprehensive description of their processes and methods as well. See also IDEO, Jump Associates, Lextant, Method and Smart Design
Helping customers better understand the user is a proven business model for design firm growth. In part 3 we will consider specialization as a digital solution provider as an alternative way to grow. Digital technology brings a lot more complexity to what was traditionally a sign production process. Complexity brings opportunity, which is the topic of part 3.