Business design: How design plus business is the future

Abbie Walsh

Digital Arts:

We chat to Abbie Walsh, Managing Director at leading design consultancy Fjord about business design, how it can benefit designers and business leaders alike, and how it can help the tackle the future’s ever-evolving challenges.

No one would be anything but welcoming to a new problem-solving process – but call it ‘business design’ and there’s confusion. People restrict their impression of design to just aesthetics, but any designer can attest that design aspires towards more than beauty: it pursues fresh, innovative solutions, whilst always prioritising the user. It is a process, not a product, and well-suited to helping companies face real-world challenges.

Unlike traditional problem-solving, which methodologically tackles a problem step-by-step, business design focuses on observation, empathy and the context and culture of a problem – especially the user, whether they are a user of the pay role (the employee) or the product (the customer).

Far from the flow charts, power points and expensive suits that are often employed to solve big business trouble, design thinking solves problems by getting the super-speed lift down the glittering tower and actually chatting to the locals, learning and making sense of their point of view.

Abbie Walsh is here to tell us the day-to-day ups and downs of translating between two major groups (business and design), why the two are increasingly overlapping, and the insider’s view of potential long-term climbs and falls as two influential worlds meet and merge.

Business design’s day-to-day

Business and design. Big words, big job. Even though it’s only been part of  Fjord’s vocabulary for 3-4 years, business design has proven itself as a tool for rethinking not only “highly differentiated products and services”, but “entire systems”. And ‘entire systems’ sometimes means creating an interconnect, human-centred business from scratch.

For Abbie, business design is a “frame”: both a scaffold for designers to stay business-focused and a design-structured perspective for the clients to meet their time-pressured goals – making things, getting them out to market quickly and learning quickly.

This works harmoniously because both design and business are obsessed with the user, but from different, complementary perspectives. “The broader skills of design are around understanding and having empathy for users and customers. So, who are their customers? What are they motivated by? What are the gaps? What are the pain points?”

By listening to its customers, Fjord helped Scandanavian mobile operator 3 clean their self-service – and went one step further, to transparency. A clear, simple and immediate monthly bill was delivered to customers on phone app My 3, a phone app. “This,” says Abbie “cut down the need for call centres by huge percentages, which obviously has a huge impact on cost.” Find out more information.

That the customer is always right is nothing new. What might be painfully unfamiliar to anyone who has worked for an unaware, anonymous company is that employees are just as important. In fact, to business design,we all are (go us). Business design listens non-judgementally to everyone, which is why communication – a classic design skill – is key.

“You might hang out and do diary studies with [employees and customers],” explains Abbie on Fjord’s user research process. “Or, if it’s an employee, actually work and be part of that environment with them, and really feel what it’s like to work there. And then, off the back of that, you start to paint a picture, and you start to create quite a detailed case study or map of what people’s motivations are.”

This map of the company that emerges – whether mountainous with potential or craterous with disaster – will prompt a wonderful fuzz of ideas. Whether crazy good, crazy bad or just plain crazy, every solution is a possibility, and team members will ask ‘why?’ more than an annoying five-year-old child (if possible). In this mesh of business, design and tonnes of different people comes the fiery, boundary-pushing brand of progress that is only possible with different perspectives.

“We help clients beat the competition in trying out new things,” says Abbie. When Fjord’s research, idea and prototype process is over, the eventual aim is for its chicks to leave the nest: business design should be as integral to the client’s renewed business’ survival as, well, flying is to a bird’s. “We go in and train them in design techniques, so they then can actually take on business design skills themselves and become more sustainable.”

Finnish immigration service, Migri, evolved from Fjord’s input. It came to Fjord knowing that immigration is complex, booming and influential – and that its confusive service was failing customers. Through workshops with designers, user tests and creative exercises, “we worked with them to simply the process of applications,” says Abbie. And there’s that word again: they made the application process more “transparent”.

In improving the lives of customers with a new e-service (“93% of applicants gave it a positive rating”) and the finances of Migri (saving €1.7 million), Fjord also made it “easier for employees to do their job. Migri now have design as part of their process,” explains Abbie. “They continue to improve this application process for immigration.”

You can read the full article on Digital Arts

Abbie Walsh

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