Design in Britain: The race to redesign British business

UK firms are at last recognising that good design is an integral part of any successful product, rather than just a cosmetic add-on.

Companies of all sorts have long appreciated the importance of design. This is especially true, of course, in industries such as car production and furniture making, where aesthetic appeal is vital. But the pace of change and the rising competition in the business world mean that design is assuming a key role in a range of other sectors.

In particular, the growth of the service economy has fuelled developments of a new design market. In short, at a time of fundamental market shifts - and the arrival of a completely new one in the shape of the Internet - innovation is recognised as the route to survival. Moreover, such is the pace of change that innovation has to be constant. The idea that companies can come up with new products - or, more likely, refinements of old ones - every once in a while has been supplanted by a demand for a flow of ideas resulting in a corresponding flow of new products and services.

Not surprisingly, many traditional companies are finding the transition difficult, resulting in a rise in the profile of organisations like IDEO and Seymour Powell, design firms helping companies in such different fields as lavatories and bras.

But even with all this activity, progress has not been huge. Research published yesterday by the Bourton Group, a management consultancy specialising in manufacturing, found that most UK businesses were not managing the process of innovation well. Though companies rank time taken to design and market new products as one of their top challenges, only a tenth of them report "great success" in this area. Keith Bissett, managing director of Bourton, said: "Any move away from costs and into an innovation culture, to which we all aspire, is still a long way off."

It is in response to such findings that the Design Council, the publically funded body charged with promoting the importance of design to industry, is increasingly talking of "the new business of design". Indeed, it is the underlying theme of this year's Design in Business Week, a series of conferences and workshops up and down the UK which the Design Council uses to promote its work in the business sector.

The opening event, to involve more than 2,000 business people, politicians, educationalists and designers, is a forum led by three leading business thinkers: Charles Hampden-Turner, an expert on corporate cultures; Martin Hayward, an experienced strategic marketer; and John Kao, an expert on creativity. They will examine how the broadly based design discipline can respond to the growing challenges of the new economy.

Until recently, business was thought to be taking a holistic approach to design if that function worked alongside such areas as production, marketing and finance rather than merely acting as a glamorous add-on. Taking such a route is still vital. In the car industry, for example, other companies are following the well-established BMW practice of getting designers and finance people, as well as engineers and marketing specialists to work together in the interests of making production simpler and therefore more cost-efficient. According to the latest Design Council statistics, design is now being used as an integral management tool - as opposed to bolted-on aesthetics or styling - by nearly one in four companies. Similarly, it is said to play a "significant" role in 67 per cent of large firms.

But there is a growing realisation that in an economy largely driven by knowledge, this is not enough. Things are moving so fast that companies must not just involve people across various departments in designing inspiring products, services and communications. They need to design new contexts for them.

Doing this means understanding what might be termed the invisible rules of the game, or the environment that allows design and other aspects of creativity to flourish. The catch is that change is so constant that these rules are not static, but must be continuously rewritten.

Clearly, many will see this as a threat. But to others it presents a huge opportunity. The arrival of the Internet and the growing awareness of the potential of electronic commerce have created a readiness and have raised new business models and cultures. This means a role for design beyond the traditional focus on look and feel.

As Gary Hamel, the US business strategist, said at last year's Design In Business Week, "There's never been a more exciting time to be in business or run an organisation than today. You'll never have more freedom to redesign your business for the future."

Design In Business Week '99, from 24-29 October, is launched at the BFI IMAX in London on 18 October, and includes events in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. See www.dibw.org.uk or phone 0171 420 5277.

News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

    £35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

    Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

    Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

    £35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

    Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

    £45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'