The day was divided into a series of talks, panel discussions and workshops with every delegate able to choose one of two for each session. This ensured everyone was well catered for.
The most memorable point from my first talk; So what has design done for us? was Martha Lane-Fox being adamant that founder-led businesses are always design centric and reap the rewards. She cited Virgin and Facebook as prime examples where quite obsessive leaders want everything really well designed. The panel, which also included design leaders from Diageo and Herman Miller, agreed that it was essential to put users at the centre of design and to always try and be half a step ahead of what customers want. There was also an interesting point made that business to business (B2B) companies have a higher marginal difference when utilising design – meaning the B2B sector has even more to gain through design than consumer products or services.
The next session I selected was Adding Value: using design to improve products and services, hosted by Interbrand. Here we heard some great stories about how Barclays, Philips, Waitrose and Diageo use design in a far more in-depth way than I had previously thought. Not just in brand communication, packaging and product design but also in recruitment and retention of staff. The recurring comment was that it was important to have ‘the ear of the board’ to be able to integrate design into the business in a way that could make a real difference. The role of the Chief Design Officer (CDO) was viewed as an effective way to make progress so that the board of directors could trust design in order to realise its full potential.
After this was a great but quick 1 hour workshop which put us together in small teams and we were given a whistle-stop tour of how to understand your customers and learned about different observation techniques. This was followed by a team exercise where each team was given a set of photographs and 10 minutes to try and answer as many questions about this person as possible. This made me realise how much you can learn from simple observation of a certain demographic.
The next panel discussion was Innovate and succeed: using design and technology to get ahead. This was hosted by the Technology Strategy Board and included a panel from BBH Labs, Shropshire Council and BERG Cloud. This very diverse panel created an interesting discussion about the differences in the private and public sector but everyone was united on the importance of excellent design. There were many soundbites from Mel Exon, Chief Digital Officer at BBH Labs such as "good is the enemy of great" and "when the world zigs, zag". She also pointed out that we are at the end of a (technology) transition decade where communication channels have evolved considerably and will now begin to settle. Matt Webb, CEO of BERG Cloud, entertained us with his story about the creation of 'Little Printer' stating they had no idea what the purpose would be for the product but by sharing it, the users would eventually tell them. He went on to say that it was important to 'get your hands dirty' and experiment and that design was a very agile process with learning-as-you-go being necessary to create the best results.
Closing remarks entitled So how do we design our future growth? were delivered by Amanda Brooks, Director of Innovation at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Her plea to a fairly converted audience was that design was not a peripheral consideration but a key differentiator in the global race. She stated that the UK has a world-leading position in design and that the creative industries equate to 8% of UK GDP, almost as much as the financial sector.
I came away from the day feeling inspired and hopeful. There is much we as designers can do to tell the story of what design can do for a business and I think we are not even close to realising its potential. To find out more about the Design Council and its excellent publications, go to designcouncil.org.uk