Business design

Business design is a new way of thinking about companies as interconnected systems worthy of innovation, creativity and the application of design to the systems themselves. Business design applies the mindsets of a designer to the task of creating the overall strategy and business model.

Brand Personality
Business design looks at the financial model of the company as an area for innovation.

Business design is a useful way of looking creatively at a company in the context of its customers, suppliers and competitors. Every company needs to combine the disciplines of technology, design and business together to deliver value for a customer. But too often, only the crafts of technology and design are seen as real sources of new innovation (with the business function itself just doing the marketing or arranging the finances). In reality, the business-side of innovation can be incredibly important.

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Startup as a service

If you were the CEO of a large company, who would you turn to for help to recapture your lost mojo? How would you create, test and build new products? Big companies have been steadily getting worse at innovation, whereas startups have begun to eat the world. Small companies can move fast, take risks and attract talent.

Jon Gold at Makeshift
Startups an bring together designers (like Jon Gold, pictured) and developers in much more creative and agile ways. (Photo: Paul Clarke and Makeshift)

The brightest minds of the next generation are spending their weekends building software in hackathons, quitting their jobs to build interesting startups and being investing in by incubators and accelerators. It’s a brave new world, but large companies are still looking for ways to become more agile.

A new trend is emerging where hot studios (that combine design, business and technology skills) are building startups from scratch for large companies. This new approach is reviving the patronage model from Renaissance Florence.

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Value Proposition Canvas Template

A value proposition is where your company’s product offer intersects with your customer’s desires. It’s the magic fit between what you make and why people buy it. Your value proposition is the crunch point between business strategy and brand strategy.

value proposition canvas
The  value proposition canvas includes elements from behavioural psychology and design thinking.

When you’re starting a new project or a new company you need quick and dirty tools to help you focus on executing things faster and better. Good strategy tools exist only to help you focus on getting the right things done. The value proposition canvas is a simple tool that quickly gets you to the ‘minimum viable clarity’ required to start building and testing.

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Management consultants vs. creative agencies

Management consulting firms want to move into design, and creative agencies want to move into management consulting. It seems that everyone wants to swim upstream to the boardroom and consult on innovation, customer experience and design thinking. The widely held theory is that there are good margins in this type of work (and let’s be honest, it’s sexy as hell). But what no one talks about is that the high-end strategy work is actually important because it leads onto the multi-million dollar implementation projects that secretly feed the biggest global agencies

Business Design
Management Consultants and Advertising Agencies are both fighting to move into Digital Innovation Consulting.

Over the years, I’ve worked in several of the grey areas between management consulting and design thinking so I’ve seen some of these macro industry changes first hand. The toughest part of my career has always been finding the chink in a client’s armour that lets us get close enough to the boardroom to ask the really tough questions. It almost doesn’t matter what the starting point is for a project if your goal is to get to the deeper issues inside a business. With all these shifting agency services, it’s hard for clients to know who to turn to these days for advice on big problems.

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Business Model Strategy: One widget at a time

The whole of your business model can be analysed by imagining one widget at a time. Usually, design thinkers and product managers want to wait until a new product is in the market before testing the financial impact that it has had on the business.

Business planning
William Stout Architectural Books, in San Francisco for DMI conference.

I’m proposing that for your new product development projects that you include an accountant in your early team and that as part of the story-telling process you include financial models of how the new product would work for the business.

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Easiest way to value your intellectual property

You might not want to hear this, but if you can’t put a dollar value on the benefit of your design project then you may not have a project at all. You may have a registered trade mark to protect your brand design. Maybe even a patent or design registration to protect your product designs. But how much intellectual property is there really in your business? And how much is it worth?

In previous posts we’ve mentioned accurate but hard ways to value your intellectual property using financial analysis. There is also a fast and easy way of valuing intellectual property. I call this approach Naked Valuation™ because you are going to compare your business to a similar business without your intellectual property.

This technique will help you make the business case for design thinking more easily by quickly providing additional economic evidence that investment in design will increase the value of your business. To get started, ask:

“If I copied all your land, buildings, equipment & machinery, and then employed dozens of well trained but totally inexperienced laborers to do your jobs. Then what can you do today that they couldn’t do?”

The answer may well tell you a lot about where the real intellectual property is in your business.

Asking yourself this question about the comparable “naked” business will often bring up the value of relationships, channels to market, designs, production problems you’ve solved, trade secrets, tweaks to your systems and even deep knowledge by a couple of key staff.

Whether it’s product design, brand design or innovation processes. Each time you invest in design you are going to add value to the assets that are hardest to copy. It may seem easy to replicate intellectual property such as a physical design or a logo but once you realize that the IP is infused into every element of your business its easy to realize how hard it is to replicate.

To perform a Naked Valuation™ on a product instead of a business, simply identify the value of an asset with the trait that you are valuing and compare it to a similar asset without the trait. For example:

  • Coca Cola sells for $2.69 for 1.5 litres at my local store, the private label store brand sells for $1.39 for the same volume. A value on intellectual property of 48% of the total price.
  • A 2009 Lexus ES sells for $41,000 whereas a Toyota Camry from the same manufacturer with the same design sells for $32,000. To be fair the Lexus includes upgrades that if added to the Toyota would cost around $3,000. Even so, the branded premium is still $6,000 or 15% of the total price.
  • A nice New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc will retail for $30 whereas an unbranded “cleanskin” version of the same wine could sell for as little as $10. For a brand and reputation value of 66% of the total price.

There are lots of other reasons for these price differences and the total return on intellectual property is a function of both price and volume. Even so, the insight remains… to get a quick test of the value of a piece of intellectual property, look for the nearest substitute without your intellectual property and compare the economic value of the two.

Forecasting for new product development

It’s hard to forecast the impact of a new product on the whole business, but it’s important to try.

Each of the levers in the post on accounting for design will affect key parts of your company’s financial statements. To convince the CFO of the value of your project you’ll be forecasting scenarios based on the proposed investment in research, design and innovation. These scenarios can be as simple as guessing the number of units that you will sell of the new product or as complex as full financial models of the entire organisation based on discount factors for out-years.

If your CFO is seeking basic forecasts then your financial analysis of the project will be persuasive. If however, your CFO asks for scenario plans and mock-financial statements then you’ll want to enroll the help of a sympathetic accountant or financial analyst.

The first question that person will ask you is would you like your forecast “bottom up” or “top down”? The right answer is “both”.

  • Bottom up forecast start from your existing production and supply. They then build up to forecast the possible future sales.
  • A top down forecast starts with the potential market demand and builds down to answer the production and supply that would be needed to meet that demand.
  • The flaw of bottom up forecasts is that they are often boring and do not build a sufficient case to invest in break-through innovation. We see this most often in clients as, “We grew at 10% per annum for the last five years so I guess we’ll keep on doing that.”

    The flaw of top down forecasts is that they risk being “pie-in-the-sky” and ignoring the organisation constraints. We see this most often in clients as, “The Chinese market for this product will be USD$10 billion so we only need to get one percent of that and we’ll have a run-away success.”

    Work with your ally to create forecasts that both stand robustly in the present and aspirationaly in the future. The most powerful technique we’ve met to achieve this is future-casting five years ahead aspirationally and then looking back from there brutally to see each step involved.

    The second question your sympathetic accountant will ask is: “How are we going to account for the non-cash impacts of your project?” The safest answer at this stage is “We’re not.” Any brand benefits from a new product should be treated as a windfall.

    Accounting for innovation

    It’s surprisingly easy to use accounting to measure the impact of design. In accounting terms, the impact of your design project will be similar to the “economic” impact we discussed last time, but the language you use to articulate the impact will be very different.

    From a design perspective, you’ll need to apply some empathy to your use of terminology. It might not be fun, but like driving a car on a windy road, you’ll need to treat your accountant the way they want to be treated. If you’re going to get the best from them.

    Accounting gives us a language to measure the results of innovation.

    Wherever you are from in the world the technical accounting terms might differ but, your finanical controller, Chief Financial Officer and accountant will be interested in any project that can:

    1. Increase your revenue
    2. Lower your cost of goods sold
    3. Deliver a higher contribution margin (and gross margin)
    4. Lower your overheads from capital costs
    5. Create more earnings before interest in tax (EBIT)
    6. Ensure ongoing positive cash-flow

    Each of these areas are important to design and innovation. What you might notice is missing is the word “profit”. This is because in today’s business climate:

    Profit is an opinion, cash is a fact.

    Designing the business case for a new product is an integral part of bringing something new to life. For an idea to be sustainable it needs to fit into the company’s aspirations, investment profile and business model.

    Statistics on design investment

    The best defence in your business case for investment in design is the impact of design on the long-term financial value of the business. There are several reputable organisations that have spend quite some time and money to analyse how spending on design creates impact on the bottom line.

    Design Innovation Ireland
    Design Innovation Ireland has some great stats on business and design.

    Interbrand have some fantastic international analysis on the Best Global Brands 2008 and they discuss how to value your brand based on future earnings using:

    1. Forecast financials
    2. Economic analysis
    3. How your brand influences ongoing consumer demand

    The Design Council UK found in 2001 that a basket of companies using design grew by around 10% faster than the market. The Danish Design Centre found in 2006 that out of 800 companies (staff from 35-200) those that use design had growth in gross result (gross profit discussed above) of 250% compared with companies that did not.

    In 1993 Roy R. and Potter S. (of the Open University in the UK) found in a study called Winning by Design that 94% of projects using design that were implemented achieved a positive net return. On average the payback period was 14.5 months. Interestingly, product design projects took 15.9 months to pay for themselves and graphics/packaging projects took 11.5 months.

    The Irish Center for Design Innovation gets design and innovation in a big way and it’s worth pointing your finance team towards them to check out the financial models for assessing an investment in design.

    Armed with your economic levers, your accounting impacts, the specific forecasts and some aggregate data to support your assumptions you are now ready to face your CFO.

    Business case for design

    This post analyses the business case for design using the fundamentals of micro-economics and financial accounting.

    Let’s run through how you (as a product development professional) can use the language of economics and finance to articulate the return on investment of design expenditure. In particular, in the areas of brand, product and process. You can also look at how to articulate the business wide impact of incorporating design thinking into your company’s vision, culture and strategy.

    We can use a USD$100,000 engagement with an external product design and innovation firm as an example. The aim of this project will be to develop a product that anticipates latent needs, delights end-users and delivers an integrated holistic experience. However before you or your external product designers get to any of that you’ll need to get past your CEO, senior management team, CFO and their corporate finance team. We’ll address the CEO first.

    Economic returns from investing in design

    The key levers available to your firm’s senior management include the price, quantity, variable costs and fixed costs of your business. To convince the CEO and senior management team of the benefit of the project you’ll want to address the real life impact of the project in each of these areas. You will need to convince them that with the aid of a disciplined approach to NPD and an empathetic approach to design, your project will create a product that:

    1. Commands a higher price because it is differentiated from your competition.
    2. Sells a higher quantity because it provides more utility to the customer.
    3. Can be produced with lower variable cost.
    4. Is designed to allow for lower fixed costs.

    Each of these economic levers contributes to the ultimate goal of your CEO which is usually some variation on creating a sustained and differentiated high margin revenue stream.

    You will need to have command of the above financial terms and be able to structure your business case accordingly. The attention span of senior management teams is shortening and a good summary (in terms they understand) is important.

    The internal finance team will have their own requirements for your project so speaking their language can help increase you chances of getting a project approved.