In our rapidly changing world, there is an every-growing list of complex issues which governments and organizational leaders are unable to solve on their own. After the shock of the COVID-19 pandemic, how might the role of design change as we face this complexity globally? In this article, we explore how design and Design Thinking in particular are accelerating changes in policy making, work patterns, and cultural values, 5 ways that are relevant to our lives, and some of the trends we see as we walk together on this path of transformation.
- Co-creation as Key to Innovation
- Design Will Continue Growing in Importance in Corporate Strategy
- Demand for Design in Public Sectors Will Rise
- Sustainability and Social Good Are Front and Center
- Digital Tech Will Accelerate Change
1. Co-creation as Key to Innovation
From changes in our ways of working, including the birth of co-working spaces, open source resources, workshops, Think Tanks and Hackathons, it is easy to see that we need cross-disciplinary collaboration to create innovation. In a rapidly changing environment, the only way to solve increasingly complex systemic problems is to bring together diverse teams with varying perspectives.
Take Unilever as an example. They are one of the world’s largest consumer goods companies, with more than 400 well-known brands, including Lipton, Dove and Ben & Jerry’s. More than 2.5 billion people use their products every day.
Unilever realized that they could actually utilize their large customer base to design products that better meet the needs of consumers and the market. To make the most of their resources, they actively seek product solutions from their own customers, from start-up companies, to academics and designers or directly from consumers!
Through their open innovation platform, which was launched in 2010, Unilever challenged the public directly to come up with solutions related to issues like smart packaging, refrigeration and cooling systems. If a solution is approved by Unilever, the applicant receives a contract for their solution! The platform was so well received that the company received over 1,000 proposals in the first half of 2012, accelerating the development of a more open corporate culture at Unilever. Today, more than 60% of Unilever’s research is conducted in collaboration with external parties. Unilever’s “co-creation” approach reaffirms the value of open innovation and the potential of reaching out directly to the public for solutions.
In addition, the old model of competition, in which large companies were the only players in the market, is gradually changing, and we are convinced that innovation can only be accelerated through cooperation and co-creation. The trend insight report “COVID-19 and the Future of Business in Japan” published by IBV (IBM Institute for Business Value) also mentioned that 71% of Japanese managers plan to start important collaborative activities within their peer group, and 58% plan to start cross-industry collaboration. This style of collaboration is expected to grow by more than 300% in the next two years.
Here at Neuromagic we also place a high value on co-creation. We also actively work with our clients to create projects. In a website renewal project for well-known Japanese apparel brand United Arrows, we worked with the client to build a user profile through survey data and invited people from different disciplines to participate in the project to enhance and speed up the process. Even though the initial task given to us by the client was “website creation”, we carried out the project as strategic partners in recruitment, working across departments and with potential applicants.
2. Design Will Continue Growing in Importance in Corporate Strategy
In Japan, the introduction of design into business is not a new topic. Design is no longer the aesthetic and visual design that was advocated in the 1950s, or the design that meets consumer needs that was advocated in the 1970s, but rather a process and a mode of thinking that extends further, including Design Thinking. With the core concept “human-centered”, designers think about how to create products that meet people’s needs, and this concept is applied at the management level.
The Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) began promoting the Design Management（デザイン経営）strategy in 2018, aiming to apply the concept of design thinking at the management level. Regarding the potential of design in business, data has shown that the revenue growth of companies that incorporate the concept of design management in their organizations is higher than the average of 32%!
In the report “Business Person’s Guide to Design Driven MGMT” released by the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry of Japan in 2020, it was mentioned that “Companies that focus on design can price their products and services 30% higher than competitors selling similar products. Design can create high added value.“
Companies that focus on design can price their products and services 30% higher than competitors selling similar products. Design can create high added value.Business Person’s Guide to Design Driven MGMT
Operators may ask, “How much value can design thinking really bring to a company?” Christian Bason, CEO of the Danish Design Centre, responds that “The “value” created by design thinking includes not only monetary value, but also social value and public value. By creating things that are beneficial to mankind and society, our goal is to bring benefits to our company.“
The “value” considered by design thinking includes not only monetary value, but also social value and public value. By creating things that are beneficial to mankind and society, our goal is to bring benefits to our company.
Notable examples in Japan include TOYOTA, SONY, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation, and other large management consulting firms that have acquired design organizations. Introducing design thinking into their business strategies has shown them significant growth. We have even conducted a 4-day Design Sprint for Toshiba to facilitate communication between design and business units.
It’s also worth mentioning the “Business Value of Design” program, a collaboration between Singapore National Design Centre and McKinsey & Company, which was launched in November 2020. The program assists participating companies in two phases to facilitate successful business transformation.
3. Demand for Design in Public Sectors Will Rise
We often hear public sector organizations criticized for being bureaucratic, risk averse and slow to respond. However, we are now in a time of unprecedented change– whether it is political volatility, natural disasters or Covid-19– public sector organizations need to be more nimble to respond quickly. Moreover, in the face of a complex and unknown future, governments no longer know or have the answers to all questions. This is where the role of design becomes even more important. Design provides a way for business organizations to face complex organizational change, and this process can be applied in the public sector to help civil servants navigate complexities and create change.
Driven by pressing demographic issues and maturing technology, many international governments have begun to introduce and apply design concepts and processes within their departments on the road to innovation and digital transformation. Design Council UK, Japanese Industrial Designers’ Association (JIDA), DesignSingapore Council, and Policy Lab UK are some of the most important organizations at the forefront of the international scene.
Register your child’s birth and immunization records through an app, or browse eligible health care benefits and child care.
For example, the LifeSG app developed by GovTech aims to reduce the fragmentation of services and provide them in a more digestible manner, making it easier for citizens to find and access services at important stages of their lives. Register your child’s birth and immunization records through an app, or browse eligible health care benefits and child care. The app was designed with citizens in mind, and organizes services from the perspective of a person’s life journey, rather than based on existing application processes.
Of course, the success of this case in achieving its vision is not only based on a human (citizen) oriented design, but also the cooperation among the stakeholders (government agencies). This is a prerequisite to making the product vision come true through inter-ministerial adjustment of policies, processes and operations.
4. Sustainability and Social Good Are Front and Center
For the past few decades, most companies have focused on one primary goal: revenue growth, and the faster the better. Now, however, people are challenging companies to define success in a more multifaceted way, rather than using financial growth alone as the sole benchmark for success. It is time for companies to set broader business goals and balance them with the need to generate revenue to ensure that the business is sustainable. As Simon Sinek, creator of the Golden Circle theory, puts it
People don’t buy “WHAT” you do; they buy “WHY” you do it. The goal is not to do business with people who need your product, but to do business with people who share your beliefs.
At the same time, this COVID pandemic has forced people to pause and think and has brought new vigor to sustainable development. For example, we have seen pollution abate as economic activity has slowed, and we have been reminded again of the importance and urgency of community care and human connection.
On the road to a more sustainable business model, there are already many pioneers ahead of us, and the concern and transformation of many countries and corporate organizations for sustainable development and circular economy is worthy of our consideration.
For example, Coca-Cola announced in February that it will use 100% recycled PET bottles in the U.S. in the future, and will put the “recycle me” slogan on the packaging, a move that brings them closer to their goal of “50% recycled content in all PET bottles by 2030”.
Fast Company, a leading U.S. business magazine, has also been awarding the World Changing Ideas Awards to companies and organizations that drive innovation around the world since 2016, encouraging innovative thinking to make these positive impacts visible.
If you’re interested in sustainable transformation, check our interview with Koos, one of the leading sustainable service design agencies in Europe.
5. Digital Tech Will Accelerate Change
There is no doubt that we have seen fundamental changes to the way we work since 2020. All organizations have no choice but to accelerate their digital transformation in order to improve the effectiveness of remote work. According to a McKinsey survey of global business executives, the digital transformation of companies’ interactions with customers and supply chains, as well as their internal operations, has been directly accelerated by nearly 3-4 years due to COVID-19. In addition, investments in technology systems and products for digital transformation have also been accelerated by nearly seven years.
Now that digital channels are the primary (and in some cases, the only) mode of customer engagement, automated processes will become the mainstay of productivity improvement. The successful integration of technology and digital transformation into the corporate DNA will be the path that companies will surely take in the future.
In addition, according to the trend report published by IBV, “COVID-19 and the future of business in Japan“, it is stated that regardless of tech, “the human factor is the key to success.”
The human factor is the key to successCOVID-19 and the future of business in Japan
Although senior managers plan to invest in the future of digital transformation and enhance their technological capabilities, human resources will be the secret to their success. According to survey data, the competencies that have the greatest impact on business growth are “employee and customer-focused competencies “ such as corporate people training and customer experience management. However, this factor has been overlooked by senior managers in the past two years. More than three-quarters of Japanese executives believe that after COVID-19, customer behavior will continue to change, with direct face-to-face contact with customers shifting to online shopping or online customer interaction. For this reason, 81% of senior managers say that customer experience management will be the focus of transformation in the next two years. This is up from 29% two years ago.
Meanwhile, the success of taking care of employee satisfaction and welfare while improving customer service will be one of the key opportunities to increase competitiveness.
So, since human touch is the key to success, the concept of design with an emphasis on human-centeredness will be extremely effective! With a design mindset, we must maintain empathy for society and think critically in order to bring a more positive impact to this society. The application of human-centered design to the current accelerated digital transformation can ensure that technology will always be faithful to human nature, and with an emphasis on inclusivity and accessibility, no one will be left behind in this wave of transformation. And it’s not just the customer experience that will be enhanced; companies will also take the employee experience into account!
The concept of co-creation or digital technology innovation is not new, but the five dimensions mentioned in the article will greatly affect the way we do things – and the pace of change will not slow down as the economy and human life evolves.
Therefore, in order to face the VUCA – Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous era – we need to be more flexible and agile to deal with these changes. Design will be an effective tool to help us navigate through the darkness.
Ching Ying Lin
Originally from Taiwan, currently based in Tokyo.
Chingying comes from a marketing background and is currently responsible for workshop design, sustainability and design seminar management, and supporting companies with sustainable transformation.
In addition to sustainable development and circular economy, she is also very interested in local creativity and public service design!