Blog

9.2.2021

Design is an opportunity for change

“New brand saves furniture company Hakola,” wrote OP media in their own article about the impressively quick and surprising success of the traditional Jurva-based furniture manufacturer.

Hakola had a long history of upholding traditional Finnish virtues: diligence, willingness to serve, reliability and streamlined production. In spite of this, the company was facing major financial difficulties. The thing that ultimately ended up turning their fortunes around was strategic design.

This lofty term actually refers to a rather mundane, logical and systematic activity. Strategic design is all about integrating design into the very heart of business planning and the building of differentiating and competitive factors. The aim is to make the company and its products, services and brand meaningful, important and desirable to people in the future. And not just to customers, but to other important parties as well, such as the company’s own employees, financiers, retailers, owners, different types of partners and all stakeholders that have dealings with the company.

Strategic design is all about integrating design into the very heart of business planning and the building of differentiating and competitive factors.

According to contemporary thinking, a company’s brand encompasses all the experiences, wishes and stories associated with the company. People make choices at the upper level between brands; it is the starting point of everything, with individual products and services considered only after the choice of brand is made. This is why it is essential for companies to carry out comprehensive brand management at executive management level if they wish to succeed in today’s market.

Brand is a difficult term with a complex history, but as Marina Vahtola, an experienced executive and the board member of several highly successful companies, puts it: “Finnish companies often consider their brand to be a matter of operative marketing, while in reality it is the strategic core of their business.”

But what about design? It takes a great deal of effort to design a holistic, appealing brand, but the results are definitely worth it, as design-driven brands are on average 211% more profitable for their owners than traditional companies (source: Design Management Institute). Hakola, for example, was successful in profiling itself more strongly as a Finnish, not just a Jurva-based company. Meaningful differentiating factors, such as quality, localness, transparency, social responsibility, trendiness, humanity, reliability and Finnishness, were already inherent to the company. They just had to be integrated into the company’s brand, everyday operation and digital marketing in an appropriate and appealing way.

Design-driven brands are on average 211% more profitable for their owners than traditional companies.

Design can be defined briefly as thinking, planning and activities that provide value for people and are motivated by people’s needs, encompassing the preconditions for leading a natural, good life on Earth.

In practice, this means that design helps companies understand the requirements and possibilities that arise as the world changes (in the past 15 years as a result of globalisation and digitalisation, for example) and interpret them in a concrete manner; for example by answering the question: What should our future products and services be like so that we can become more successful as the world continues to change? How can we stand out in a positive manner from our competitors, be important and meaningful to all the people of our brand, be comprehensively responsible? And how can our products and services be important and right for our customers in particular?

Design offers excellent tools, methods and processes for tackling future and current challenges and opportunities.

It is regrettably common to find companies with products and services in their offering that they think people need, that have always been part of their offering, that they have traditionally and easily been able to provide or that are particularly profitable for the company. Sometimes it is healthy for a company’s management to ask: is this what our customers want to buy, or is it what we want to sell? Unfortunately they are not always the same thing.

Decision-making is very often motivated by factors that distance it from people. These include power struggles, political motivations, a technology-driven approach or simply laziness when it comes to trying to make something new and meaningful.

Design offers excellent tools, methods and processes for tackling future and current challenges and opportunities, to discover and picture something new and for future success.

Design is an opportunity for change.

 

Petteri Kolinen
CEO
Design Forum Finland

Photo: Mikko Ryhänen