Design of the times
Design consultant Gert Kootstra talks to Annemarie Hoeve about the importance of the right strategies for your business
PHOTOGRAPHY: WENDELIEN DAAN AT UNIT
Forget networking, forget technology; the latest business buzzword these days is design, or rather ‘design management’. But what do pricey lamps and swish seating have to do with running a successful business, apart from perhaps adding some extra oomph to the office environment?
The idea that design is only about fancy furniture is a common mistake, says design consultant Gert Kootstra. “Design is much broader; it also encompasses everything from architecture to production, communication and branding, right down to the service and staffing policy of a company. Everything has to fit to create an authentic whole. That’s when you have a strong concept and that’s what design management is all about.”
Former graphic designer Kootstra has his own design management company, Census. He is also programme director and teacher for the MA course at the European Institute for Brand Management, and is a part-time research fellow for Rotterdam’s INHolland college. He points out that 80% of all newly developed products or services fail. Consumers are spoiled and a good-looking product, cutting-edge technology or fabulous marketing alone is no longer enough. “Design needs to be incorporated into the DNA of a company. Only then can you come up with a winning formula.”
“Take Nintendo’s Wii,” Kootstra says. The Wii is a game console with a motion-sensitive controller, which takes gaming off the couch with a whole range of virtual sports people can play in their living rooms, from tennis to golf, to boxing. It was an instant worldwide hit after its 2006 launch, and over 50 million have been sold to date. “Before, gaming was criticised for being antisocial and fostering an inactive lifestyle. By changing these negative traits into something positive, Nintendo came up with something that not only looks great, but also gave a whole new meaning to the concept of gaming,” Kootstra says. In this way, design was inherent to the development from day one, at a concept level, rather than only coming into play at the very end of the process, to polish up the aesthetics.
In the same vein, the new Dutch-based hotel chain citizenM reinvented the whole concept of a hotel, says Kootstra, citing them as the best example of good design management. “It’s all an extension of one concept, which has been carried through from the architecture to the coffee cups,” he explains. Adorning each cup is a statement from “citizenM”, which is the name they have given to their target clientele of well-travelled consumers interested in affordable luxury. But it goes much further than slogans on ceramics. “You can check yourself in and instead of a traditional lobby we have a spacious series of living areas where people can relax as they would at home, work, or meet other people,” Carel van Houte the chief development University in the USA has founded an Institute of Design, aka the D-School, as an alternative to the more traditional Business School. They offer a degree in Design Thinking, which aims to produce “leaders in multidisciplinary innovation”. They believe that “having designers in the mix is critical to uncovering unexplored areas of innovation.”
Sharing this belief is design expert Dr Peter Zec of the prestigious Red Dot international design award and institute. “While technology creates new concepts, materials and systems, it is design and architecture that make these discoveries comprehensible and acceptable and pushes them ahead with communication. The future is designed today. It’s important to offer training for young people which supports creativity, courage and independent thinking,” he says.
This focus on design is more than just the next flavour of the month, with countries like the UK, Finland and Spain going so far as to draw up design policies to stimulate innovation, and in turn, the economy. The EU is doing the same. Last October saw the launch of the first European Design Day. A staff working paper was recently published in the run-up to a new European innovation plan for the next decade revealing: “companies that invest in design tend to be more innovative, more profitable and grow faster than those who do not.” They also report a link at a macro-economic level between the use of design and national competitiveness.
The logic behind these strategies is clear. “In Europe we can no longer compete in price, but we can compete by creating added value through innovation,” says Kootstra. For companies, that ‘added value’ translates as added profits, which in these tough times is just what the doctor ordered. So in your next board meeting, don’t be surprised if you see a few designers among the suits, because design looks set to redefine ‘business as usual’.
Kootstra’s top tips:
DO RESEARCH and find out what consumers want. Tailor your product to their changing needs.
DUMP ANY ‘ME-TOO’ STRATEGIES which copy existing formulas. Focus on innovation instead.
MAKE DESIGN PART OF YOUR BUSINESS MODEL and incorporate it into every company layer, from concept to production to branding.