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How design can enhance business innovation

I spent 4 days in Barcelona in a workshop at ESADE business school practicing techniques used by designers to create. And the least I can say is that those techniques DO help make a difference in business.

Let me explain you why.

The workshop was organized by the ESADE business school together with the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. The goal was to create new businesses from scratch using the very techniques used by designers to … design. It may seem odd at first to think that design and business can actually “work” together but when you look at how new objects are designed, what their genesis is in the mind of the designer, it suddenly becomes clearer.

The design thinking process is, by and large, divided into 4 phases : understanding today’s situation, thinking in a divergent way, using an ideation process to generate combinations with more added value, systems thinking.

What I was surprised to learn is that the techniques used in the first and second phases are also used by good marketers to enhance their thinking: drawing the customer journey, using ethnography to better grasp the customer’s world, integrating trends into the big picture for instance. What is different however is the use that is made of visuals, of prototyping (what designers call “fast fail prototyping”) to represent the world. This is really something that is missing in today’s marketing practices. We use to think rather than draw, build hypothesis rather than try. This is in my opinion caused partly by the perception that customers have of a marketing agency or, more generally, by the perception given by marketers themselves.


We are way too serious and would improve our results if we dared stopping the powerpoint plant. What I mean by that is that many marketers understand their job as making powerpoint to present the results of their research. I remember having a book about the danger of powerpoint slides and how it impeded creativity. I now better than ever understand why.

The problem is however rooted in the DNA of business. Powerpoint (kudos to Billd Gates) have become a natural OUTPUT of business. The question should here be asked whether this output has value for the end-customer, the one who pays the bill and pays our salaries. I’m not sure anymore. Yet I fear that customers will not like hearing a consultant or a marketing department say something like “as of today we’ll stopped giving powerpoint presentations and will held instead meeting where executives will play with fastfail prototypes and draw their vision of the market’s future”.


My Take:

We believe in written words although it has been shown that writing are is not the most efficient form of communication. Writing is a cheap communication vehicle that has many advantages, especially in cultures where risk-aversion is high. Yet, avoiding risks has never been the best way to innovate. Remember Edison who build thousands of prototypes before finding the right design. We must embrace a culture of positive failing if we want to innovate.

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Dr. Pierre-Nicolas Schwab is the founder of IntoTheMinds. He specializes in e-commerce, retail and logistics. He is also a research fellow in the marketing department of the Free University of Brussels and acts as a coach for several startups and public organizations. He holds a PhD in Marketing, a MBA in Finance, and a MSc in Chemistry. He can be contacted by email, Linkedin or by phone (+32 486 42 79 42)

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