Design a Better Business

“This book will provide you with new tools, skills, and a mindset to harness new opportunities…”

- Design a Better Business, page 9

Created by many of the same contributors that brought you the book Business Model Generation, Patrick van der Pijl et al expand upon their design concept for business, showing how businesses should be planned and executed using design principles.

In this concept filled book, the authors share the practical use of design tools for the various stages of business, product, or service design. Tools include:

  • Screenplays,
  • Team Charters,
  • Vision Canvas,
  • Storytelling Canvas,
  • Customer Journey Canvas,
  • Value Proposition Canvas,
  • Context Canvas,
  • Business Model Canvas,
  • Many others.

The book is not just a set of tools, though. This book includes a detailed process, the figure 8 model for executing in a logical order, the steps required to utilize the tools provided to effectively apply design principles to business design. The book also provides many examples of the tools and process employed in real-life case studies.

The Golden Egg

Golden Egg: The biggest takeaway from the book

The Design Mindset is the Best Mindset for Today’s Businesses

"The new, smarter way of working is that of a designer."
- Design a Better Business, page 251

The primary thesis of the book is that Design thinking allows for a quicker, broader, more client-centric view of business problems. This leads to better solutions, delivered more nimbly.  The book offers many examples of where this has been proven true.

The design mindset brings to business management a level of discipline and process to various business management activities. Consider the example of declining sales of your lead product. Using the Design Mindset, you would discuss with clients why they aren’t buying any more. You would also talk to competitor clients to find out what is more appealing about their product. At some point you have sufficient client data, so you go back and begin designing product changes that you feel will better meet client needs. You use prototypes to begin validating that your design changes meet client expectations. You might ‘pivot’ through several iterations of your design prototypes until you’ve reached a design that meets the client criteria. Lots of design thought processes go into getting this far. Even more are used to evaluate if your business is really ready to produce the evolved product. You will look at scaling of manufacturing, logistics, geographic regions, and other factors. You will look at willingness to make the change: is leadership aligned, is funding in place, what about collateral materials? With a design mindset, this is the way businesses can quickly and effectively respond to either internal pressures demanding change.

The book goes so far as to propose that in the future, an MBA should be defined as a Master of Business Ambiguity and that Design Thinking is how the ambiguity will be dealt with (Page 232). There is even an MBA in Design Strategy being offered at the California College of the Arts. The mix of Art and Design is believed by the authors to provide an ideal mix of disciplines to give business executives the right mindset to succeed in a world of ambiguity and accelerated pace of change.

Gem #1

An actionable way to implement the BIG takeaway (Golden Egg) into your life

Design is Iterative

"It is one thing to generate, share, and expand upon lots of ideas. But you’ll need to explore some of those ideas in greater depth…"
- Design a Better Business, page 158

Creating design based solutions is about a lot of creative thinking early on, then iteratively narrowing the possible solution space to something that will answer the identified need.

Iteration is a process of refinement: a process of continual improvement of a solution. Iteration takes into account changing understanding of needs and the business environment with each cycle through the design / delivery process. The iterative process is ideal for design work as design is all about narrowing in on the best solution from a multitude of possible options. Iterations allow designers to continually refine solutions while considering additional information about the need being solved for. Both Design Thinking and the Iterative process focus on getting prototypes in front of clients early and often, in order to validate and refine the solution. Design is iterative: it has to be in order to be successful. Iterative design gets a business to a right solution quickly while ensuring maximum value to the client.

Gem #2

An actionable way to implement the BIG takeaway (Golden Egg) into your life

Your Customer Will Tell you What to Design—If you are Willing to Listen

"Assuming you know your customers is really dangerous. Get out of the building and find out what their needs are. You won’t be sorry you did!"
- Design a Better Business, page 85

Most people have heard the old adage that ‘the customer is always right.’ Barring a few words of caution, this adage very frequently proves to be true. The words of caution are that the client doesn’t always know how to articulate what they need. The designer needs to not just ask clients, but to observe them in order to get from them what is right.

Assumptions that aren’t validated are always dangerous, especially in business. Anything you think you know about your client is, at best, historical information; at worst, inaccurate.

Knowing your client, really knowing them, requires much more than assumptions. Knowing your client requires active interaction and continuous revalidation of what you believe you know about them. This book provides great insights into how to understand your clients. The authors assert that as a designer, you must get out of your office and see the client doing what they do. Observe them from a distance, watch for unique or common behaviours. Try to capture these observations so you can review them as often as needed. Interact with clients; ask questions about their unique or common behaviours. Ask why the client is doing the things you are observing. Validate what the client tells you through more observations. Remember that the client may not be able to articulate their needs: designers need to dig deeper than initial answers in order to help the client reveal their underlying need.

Knowing your client is also about showing them what you have understood about their need. Get prototypes in front of clients early and often in order for them to help you understand what is right and what is wrong about your understanding of the clients need and your proposed solution.

Design a Better Business is a uniquely useful book for business executives looking to adapt to a world where ambiguity and increasing change of pace are the norm. This book combines Design tools and processes, case studies, and the rationale for applying Design Thinking to business. All you need to get started on designing a better business is in this book. All you need to do is read the book and take the leap.

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Chris Reynolds

ABOUT Chris Reynolds

Chris is a long time Business Analyst and Business Architect. He's passionate enough about it that he regularly speaks at conventions on these topics. Chris even wrote a book about Business Architecture because he was frustrated that far too few people knew what it was...
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