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.

Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Sport
sportVan Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Life and Style
Martha Stewart wrote an opinion column for Time magazine this week titled “Why I Love My Drone”
lifeLifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot... to take photos of her farm
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Environment
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
News
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

    VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

    £35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

    Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

    Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

    Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

    £50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

    Day In a Page

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices