What makes a design-centered organization different from other organizations?

Design-centric companies show 10 year returns yielding 2.11 times (211 percent) that of the S&P 500, according to the 2015 Design Value Index Study. The study was done by The Design Management Institute, based on 16 public companies, including Apple, Coca Cola, Herman Miller and Target.

Everything we use is designed more meticulously than we think: from the teacups we drink from to the smartphones we communicate on to the software that let's us bank online to our entertainment experiences and more. Design thinking, applying design tools and process to business problems, has become a preferred business methodology. For many companies, design is becoming how they lead, innovate, get ahead and, most importantly, stay ahead.

There are many ways to define design, but my favorite definition is from Herman Miller (you're probably sitting in one of their Aeron, Setu or Sayl chairs right now) a company we have had the good fortune to work with 20 years.

"Based on values shaped at our launch in 1905, design is a way to solve problems that people care about."

I reached out to Ben Watson at Herman Miller and the Chief Design Officers of several other design-centered companies and asked them what makes them different from other organizations. Here is what they said:

Ben Watson, Executive Creative Director at Herman Miller

"A design centered organization starts with a human problem, then seeks to solve it as purely as possible. Rather than simply responding to trends or the current marketplace, a design organization creates value by truly improving the art of everyday living."

Eric Quint, Chief Design Officer, 3M Company

"Organizations that have a design (thinking) culture are more collaborative and focused on the creation of solutions that really matter. It is a way of life. These organizations are innovative, driven by relevancy and brand experience. This is a win/win/win: happier customers, successful business and more fun to work for."

Sean Carney, Chief Design Officer, Philips

"When design is embedded across an organization-not just in its traditional strongholds, but engaging with customers, leaders and employees at every level-then we start to shape the way the organization behaves. At Philips our aim is to improve lives through meaningful innovation. Design is the custodian of the 'meaning' part--we leverage our position to ensure that the real needs of people are at the centre of every conversation."

Philips Design is running engagements with major customers including Governments, C-Suites of Insurance and Healthcare Companies using their Design Thinking approach to create a shared vision of how to work together to tackle some of societies major challenges. Their recent work with the Red Cross on reducing infant Mortality in Africa just won an award in the Fastco World Changing Innovations Awards this week.

Yves Briantais, VP Global Design and Packaging, Colgate-Palmolive

"Design-integrated companies perform better because they innovate the human experiences while other companies innovate consumer products: those companies intuitively use Design Thinking as a cross-functional unifier that removes silos and promotes cross-collaboration around the passion and curiosity for solutions that, through the lens of their brands, will improve the life of human-beings, everyday."

When I asked Yves for an example, he said that Disney has been doing very well as a company that makes happiness a value embedded in their company and that they consider every detail of your experience to remove any potential friction. At Colgate, "We came up with the idea of FFE = Friction Free Experiences echoing this FFP - Friction Free Packaging- from Amazon."

Human scale and humanistic solutions are the credo of design. What makes design-centered companies different in my mind is that they put people at the center. Take another look at the answers above and you will see "people and their lives" repeated in all of them. This is why design is good for business. And it is good business.

Is your company design-centered? I would love to hear from you and learn more about what you think makes a design-centered company different.

Design the life you love.

This is part one of a two part series on design-centered companies.

Published on: Apr 13, 2017