Doing the business

Senior designers have more to offer clients than mere creativity. Mark Shaw says they should provide wider consultancy services and become ‘business designers’

The world of graphic design is changing under our noses. All of us are reading the signs and adapting in order to survive over the long term – but are we evolving in the right way? There will always be a demand for our design solutions, but the UK may not always be seen as the world leader in graphics.

Are isolated graphic solutions going to be sufficient in tomorrow’s highly challenging and competitive business world?

I’ve been watching the changes both from a distance and at first hand. UK companies are looking for new ways of thinking creatively in every aspect of their operations, and finding that design consultancies have a special and highly effective approach to creative thinking in business, not just in communications.

This is not news to us, but it is news to the business community. This aspect of our work needs to be recognised, valued and promoted because it gives the design industry a whole new approach to helping our clients maximise their success.

As a participant in the Design Council’s Design Immersion project, I have visited a number of client businesses to advise them how to implement design throughout their operations. It’s been fascinating, and a number of patterns have emerged.

A brand cannot be created without a company having a clear idea of its target audience, its core offering and the USP it brings to the marketplace.

But many companies fail at this, preferring to ‘get on with what they do best’, which often means bumbling along, flogging old products rather than taking a bold and innovative approach to the future.

A new product development process cannot be maintained without the right people in place, and those people can’t work to the best of their abilities if their colleagues are treading on their toes or pulling in a different direction.

So, this requires a business plan and a strategic plan, plus some agreed tactics, which in turn calls for clear job descriptions, written performance contracts (and regular reviews) and structured board and operational meetings to co-ordinate everyone’s activity.

These ‘boring’ processes are vital to efficient operations, and will unlock the full potential of a business.

They have been the territory of business consultants, who don’t always have the best reputation – they can charge a lot, produce massive reports and tend to disappear off the scene.

Their time has passed, and the door is now wide open for true creative thinking in all aspects of business operations.

We can call this discipline ‘business design’, to sit alongside graphic, interactive, product and brand design as a defined role.

The problem is that not every graphic designer can become a business designer. I suggest that it is only those designers who have run their own businesses and have direct, real-time experience who can evolve into creative business designers.

This is a call to all senior designers who know and understand business operations to offer their broader creative thinking by positioning themselves as business designers, and lead a new wave of creative thinking throughout UK business.

This will add new dimensions to the UK design industry and can only be a positive contribution to our economy as a whole.

Mark Shaw

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