Design focuses on the essential

Finnish design is going through wild times. Nearly everyone has heard of service design, and the clients comprise a constantly growing range of organisations on both private and public sectors. Modern design is not only utilised in product development and marketing, but instead the various organisational operators in sales, marketing, HRM, communications and management order design work more and more often. Designers have been hired in internal teams of public administration, where they have developed the services of e.g. KELA and the Finnish Immigration Service, and steered the digitalisation process of state administration.

Design offices have awoken the large consulting agencies and IT firms, and in recent years we have witnessed several business acquisitions and mergers. Service design courses are full of enthusiastic students changing careers while design agencies and large organisations compete with each other to attract the most experienced designers. What on earth is going on here?

Design offers new kind of value to organisations, which becomes increasingly interesting as awareness about it grows. The Design Management Institute in the United States maintains a DMI index, which follows the stock market success of design-centred listed organisations. It proves that organisations utilising design in their operations, such as Ford, Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble or Intuit, have increased their value an average of 211% more than the listed control companies. It is even more interesting that the growth of this difference started in 2009, at a time when the global financial crisis dragged down stock prices and had consumers tight for money.

Design is useful in modern environments, as it helps businesses to better identify the unique and interesting aspects of their products and services to customers and focus their activities on producing these aspects. In brief, utilising design enables companies to agilely offer the essential things to which their customers are willing to invest time or money. This helps them to succeed also during challenging times.

Experienced designers utilise two core competencies: the ability to produce in-depth insight of the operational environment and the ability to quickly concretise this understanding into new experiments. They use the former ability to offer new insights of the customers’ everyday world, for example, and involve customers in the design process or testing of new products or services. This is useful when organisations wish to avoid erroneous investments that are based on unfounded assumptions of customers’ needs. In recent times, qualitative understanding has been complemented with data analysis that utilises e.g. AI technology. Combined with qualitative insight, this enables producing more specific and in-depth understanding.

Secondly, designers’ ability to develop ideas and prototypes and test them in an agile manner enables quick reactions to market changes. Design thinking is also transformative, as it includes the staff in the change processes. Whereas a traditional consultant determines measures and end results, a designer considers, in addition to the goals, the measures and tools that help achieve these results. Designers are also increasingly often involved in the development of an organisation’s internal operations and division of work. For example, the gamified training tools used in design have helped make it more effective to change traditionally challenging routines, such as work practises.

These two core competences that produce relevance – producing understanding and agile reacting – increasingly serve the different needs of organisations. At the same time, our customers challenge designers to develop their competence to face more and more complex challenges.

When we reviewed the projects carried out by Hellon in recent years, we noticed the wide scope of utilising design. We have been involved in assessing the customer value of new transportation technologies, producing customer profiles that guide strategies, developing the ecosystem of healthcare operators, gamifying development discussions and planning processes, refining the readability and understandability of legal texts and co-planning strategies with employees. We divided the end results into six groups.

  1. Insight that guides operations. Organisations received in-depth understanding of customer needs and their approach to current offerings. Organisations are able to design better services based on the gained understanding, thus ensuring their customer value.
  2. Effective strategies. Design enabled companies to base their strategic planning on a realistic view of a customer and specify the end result by inclusion of staff. As a result, the strategies will better aim towards the goals and are more effectively introduced in the staff’s everyday life.
  3. A cultural change. We supported customer-centric cultural change by providing the staff with information about the actual customer needs and developing tools for planning the rules and operations of a work community. Increasingly, this change is supported by designing better employer experiences that are seen as keys to implementing customer experiences.
  4. Innovative services. We naturally also continued our core assignments, concepting new services based on the discovered customer needs. Correctly targeted services offer organisations a competitive advantage and attract new customers.
  5. Successful customer experiences. Reviewing the customer experiences of services and planning improvements together with the customers enable more effective service production and increase the services’ added value. Good customer experiences cut down the customer churn and made the current customers recommend the services to their acquaintances.
  6. Clearer contact points. Services often have critical contact points, such as the front page, a service desk or a contract, and their detailed design should be invested in. As a result, there were fewer calls to customer support, customers’ trust with the service provider increased and they made decisions faster. This way customer services may focus on producing added value instead of processing complaints.

These six areas describe the widening field of design, but they are only the initial drafts of the available opportunities. Developing customer needs and new kinds of partnerships will continue to increase the scope of operations. There is no end to be seen for these wild times, but the future of design looks bright.

Juha Kronqvist, Lead Service Designer & Competence Director, Hellon

An article from the book Designin uusi aalto, Nuppu Gävert and Ville Tikka 2018

Photo: Anni Koponen