Podcasts from the UK Design Council

Design thinking was cool in the 1990s and early 2000s. There were a lot of conferences talking about how important a “design mindset” was to business problems. I was lucky enough to be close to the center of this explosion in creativity within business.

Design Thinking in Business
The Intersections conference in 2007 was a landmark event in Design Thinking

The UK Design Council ran a great conference in 2007. Even years later, the presentations still make powerful listening.

Continue reading Podcasts from the UK Design Council

How far has the economic case for design come?

Your business case for investing in design will include both qualitative and quantitative evidence. This blog focuses on the economics of innovation so we won’t spend to much time on qualitative arguments like case studies, war stories and theoretical arguments. Instead, the focus is on ways that you can make a compelling financial and economic business case for design.

Design Thinking in business
The business value of design thinking is being more and more widely recognised.

In 2007 by Brian Gillespie (who had just attended the DMI Conference “Improving and Measuring Design’s Role in Business Performance“) cried out for more case studies and more qualitative examples. He wanted to see more effort put into articulating the role of design in:

  • Influence on the purchasing decisions
  • Enabling strategy (new markets)
  • Enabling product and service innovation
  • Reputation/awareness/brand value
  • Time to market/process improvement
  • Customer experiences
  • Cost savings/ROI
  • Developing communities of customers
  • Good design is good for all: triple bottom line accounting for social, environmental, and business impact

Since 2007 a lot of evidence has emerged on each of these and we’ll be reviewing them in turn over the next couple of weeks and including a few new areas where design can add value. Paste any of your favorite examples of end user centred design and design thinking adding practical economic value in the comments below and we’ll include them as we go.

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.

Videos to help you build the case for design

The Technology, Entertainment and Design conferences are an amazing collection of speakers, attendees and energy. What really makes them special for me is the arbitrary 18 minute format that forces every speaker into a high-energy summary of their best material.

These summaries make the TED talks ideal ways for you to expose people in your organisation to new ideas in an easy, punchy and quick way.

Picking a top five is a hard task but I’d suggest that you do make the time to watch a couple of these and send the links to your colleagues.

Sir Ken Robinson on why schools kill creativity:

Tim Brown on creativity and play:

Paul Bennett on design in the details:

William McDonough on cradle to cradle:

David Kelly on human centered design:

You can download mp3 versions or save these videos by visiting www.ted.com. I’ve found the best way to foward them on is to copy and paste the links to the page for each particular talk that you want to send to someone. Then they can choose the format to watch or download. For example:

1. http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity

2. http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/tim_brown_on_creativity_and_play

3. http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/paul_bennett_finds_design_in_the_details

4. http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/william_mcdonough_on_cradle_to_cradle_design

5. http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/david_kelley_on_human_centered_design

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.

Why design?

Everyone had a dream as a child. A fireman, a police officer, a pilot or a doctor. Every so often you meet someone who says their dream was to be a stockbroker or company executive. It throws you off balance because it’s so seemingly mundane, but it’s usually true. Some people just knew what they wanted to do from a young age and make it happen.

Peter Thomson Design Strategy
I love the discipline of design because it brings ideas to life as tangible products.

My dream was always to be a management consultant. Mainly because I always noticed bad customer experiences and believed we can do better. My first adult book (at age 11) was Iacocca. It was a ridiculously nerdy book for a kid to read but I was inspired by the journey of turning around a distressed business. Reading it subtly changed the course of my life.

Continue reading Why design?

Resume tips for a career in innovation

I get asked a lot for advice about how to get a job in advertising, design or PR. Most of the people that ask me are looking for jobs as a strategist, planner, consultant or account manager. It’s not easy to get started in brand strategy and innovation.

CV Advice for strategy jobs
Brand strategy, design thinking and social media are fascinating careers but you’ve got to build your business credibility early on.

Over the years, I’ve compiled the most important things to check in your resume when applying for jobs in innovation, design and business strategy. I’ve also kept track of the best career advice that I’ve been given…

Continue reading Resume tips for a career in innovation

How to deal with a hate blog

A hate blog is a website that has been created to deliberately attack someone. It’s hard to know what to do about it if one is created to attack you. This post covers a series of countermeasures and counterattacks. Some of them are contradictory so don’t try and do them all at once. Just read through and equip yourself to deal with the attacker. 

There is plenty of advice online about how to deal with trolls, disgruntled customers and flame wars. These types of attacks usually happen on social media platforms where the best course of action is to ignore them and let them drop out of the day-to-day conversation. But there is very little information on how to deal hate blogs which persist and show up in search results next to (or even ahead of) your official page. 

Hate blogs are rare because they require dedication, persistence and technical knowledge to set up and maintain. I refer to the creators of hate sites as “trolls” because the fundamental motivations are similar to a social networking troll. They want attention and to hurt the object of their hate. 

1. Legal countermeasures

Legal threats against the troll themselves just tend to encourage them. But they can still be useful if you manage to bog the troll down in legal proceedings (and force them to spend money on a lawyer). On balance, it tends to drag both sides down and fuel the troll so I don’t recommend a direct legal attack. 

Instead, you can use legal proceedings (or the threat thereof) against third parties who are hosting or helping the hate site. Cease and desist letters can be grounded in any number of legal claims. But a good start would be DCMA, copyright, defamation, slander, libel, and misleading & deceiving conduct in the course of trade. None of these would win in court but they can be a strong enough threat to make a third party take something down. 

The threat of different causes of action are more or less effective against third parties. For example, Tumblr and Pinterest tend to ignore copyright claims because otherwise they’d spend all day dealing with them since having users posting other people’s stuff is their core business. 

Examples of third parties to counterattack which will help neutralise the hate site:

  • Google: Ask to have the site removed (copyright infringement is the best here).
  • Facebook: Ask to have their page/profile removed (having a registered trade mark is helpful here).
  • YouTube: Have their videos taken down (use copyright infringement)
  • Domain registrar: Ask to have their website taken down (use trademark and/or aiding and abetting defamation)
  • Web host (e.g. wordpress.com or blogger.com): Ask to have the website taken down (use trademark and/or aiding and abetting defamation)

The best way to deal with a hate site is to bury it on the second or third page of Google. That way it gets a lot less traffic and impacts your reputation a lot less. One part of burying a site is to attack the site itself. The other side is to raise up other content to replace it. 

2. Increase the ranking of positive sites 

Google abhors a vacuum. The average Google search results page has ten slots on it. If you only have one web page, then that one page is all that will appear and Google will fill the other slots with results that you can’t control or influence.  To displace a hate site you can try a range of things:

  • Social media: Create lots of social media profiles using your brand name. LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Pinterest all rank well and may help drown out the hate site.
  • Existing third-party sites: Do your best to help promote existing third-party websites that rank below the hate site, but could rank above it with some love.
  • Micro-sites: Create blogs or seperate website sites that are semi-independent. Industry commentary and news syndication sites with the keywords of the hate site in the URL may help displace the hate site.
  • Content volume: Create lots of content and interesting conversations that displaces the hate site in social media conversations (which Google now uses as a ranking indicator).
  • Public relations: Get positive coverage in the media and high profile blogs. This will rank well (and fast).
  • Community: Encourage your community to blog about you and talk about you in social media.
  • Advertising: You can push down an unwanted search result with ads that point to either you own site, or if your own site already ranks well, point to a micro-site or third-party website.

Engage a good PR, SEO and Social Media expert (these are separate people, not one person) to run a proper, well rounded reputation building campaign. This will help displace the hate site. 

3. Decrease the ranking of the hate site 

While increasing the ranking of positive content, you can also try to decrease the ranking of the negative content. Given that hate sites can be pretty dark, you might be willing to fight fire with fire. Techniques to attack the hate site fall into white, grey and black  categories. White hat is morally (and legally) positive whereas grey hat is ambiguous and black hat techniques are illegal and/or morally dodgy.  

A. White hat counterattacks:

  • Remove any links to the hate site from your own site to avoid accidentally increasing their ranking.
  • Ask your community to not link to the hate site or discuss it on social media.

B. Grey hat counterattacks:

  • Identify any SEO wrongdoing on their part and report it to Google. You can file a spam report that will penalise them if they’ve done anything wrong.
  • Use a backlink checker to identify their most valuable links from third parties. Then write to the third parties and ask them to remove the links (using a DMCA or legal notice can be useful here).
  • Increase the rank of a harmless page on their website to displace the harmful ones. Choose a less harmful page on their site and use normal modern SEO techniques to raise the ranking of their less bad sub-page.

C. Black hat counterattacks:

  • Commission a hacker to break into the site. This is fastest countermeasure (and the most effective in the short term) because the hackers can make the site redirect to your own site and the problem simply goes away. But it’s also the least effective in the long run because the troll will just create another hate site and protect it with better passwords.
  • Commission a hacker to break into their site and place bad things on the site that the troll won’t notice (and therefore won’t fix). These include hidden text in the HTML with “bad” keywords like viagra, porn, etc. This is the “secretly sew anchovies into their curtain hems” attack because it causes a slow and silent decline that the troll won’t be able to detect.
  • Commission a group of hackers to run denial of service attacks and/or repeated ping attacks to slow their site down. Google penalises slow sites so their search ranking would gradually decrease.
  • Purchase links bad links on spam sites and point them towards the hate site. Google will see the bad links and penalise the hate site because they think the hate site has been buying the links for advertising purposes  This is complicated to set up and can backfire if the links are seen as valid links. But it is very effective and a very popular technique.
  • Purchase fake reviews of the site or business on a review site. It’s more effective to “review bomb” the hate site with five star reviews (which look fake ones they have purchased) than one star reviews (which look like a malicious attack). 
  • Scrape their site and duplicate it on your own site (or a patsy fake version) before Google can index it. This might decrease the ranking by making your patsy site rank higher, but it perpetuates the content of the hate site so it’s not ideal.
  • Create a very close replica version of their website with the content re-written in a way that you prefer. Then use Adwords advertising to rank your own “fake news” site above their hate blog.

4. Psychological countermeasures

  • Direct the troll’s anger elsewhere. Hate sites take time and effort to maintain. Google likes fresh content so you can make the troll bored by getting them to hate something else. One way to do this is to transfer your most controversial activities into a single discrete entity (separate from your main operation) and use that small operation to distract, enrage and divert the troll.
  • Have a third party angel befriend the troll. A hate site is usually the creation of one person. A charm offensive can be effective if it’s from a genuinely nice person who can gently turn the troll around. The angel may not be able to have the site removed but they might gradually be able to soften the troll and have the volume of the hate turned down.
  • Co-opt and absorb the troll. Debate, discussion and critique is a healthy part of public life. One option is to use your own sites to link to the hate site and refer to them as your “outsourced conscience”. You can comment on their posts (thanking them for keeping you honest). The hate site can be used as proof that what you are doing in the world is controversial because you are making a real difference.

The best defence is to be proud of your work (yet humble about your ego) and have a sense of humour. Your audience are smart enough to make their own decisions and over time you can win on your own merits.