Business and design – two concepts crucial to any organization’s success. But what happens if you combine them? Whether you’re looking for the best website builder for your small business, launching a new product or service, or negotiating an ambitious phase of growth, business design can help.
Business design is a strategy that combines commercial priorities with the prototyping and problem-solving of design thinking to produce stronger, more sustainable solutions.
This is, by nature, a bare-bones definition of business design – and we’ll be looking at exactly what it is through a more comprehensive lens below. We’ll also be exploring business design’s key components, the key benefits, and unpacking not only its principles – but also the tools, knowledge, and strategies you need to put them all into practice.
Let’s get started!
Business design is a multidisciplinary approach – it combines principles from design thinking (a problem-solving approach that emphasizes empathy, ideation, and experimentation) with business strategy.
Business design is, in short, the process of designing a business: and profiting, thriving, high-functioning businesses at that.
Business design doesn’t just take into account the products or services of a business. It also looks at its processes, systems, customer experiences, and overall ecosystem, too.
The goal? To enhance the value, innovation, and effectiveness of a business. To go beyond traditional business strategy to focus not only on the profits but the people. To incorporate a deep understanding of that business’ needs, take a human-centered approach to commercial challenges, and ground empathy at the heart of business practices.
Business design advocates for a holistic approach to designing, growing, and evolving businesses.
It strives to look not only at a business in isolation but also considers the entirety of that business’ relationships to its environment: such as its internal processes, external partnerships, and wider market dynamics.
So what are the key components of business design? Here’s a whistle-stop tour:
- Design thinking: this involves understanding user needs, brainstorming creative solutions, prototyping, and iterating on feedback to test and refine ideas.
- User-centered focus: by placing the customer at the heart of decision-making, business design aims to develop a deeper understanding of customer preferences and pain points – and the behaviors these drive. Through this, they enable you to create products, services, and experiences that’ll connect with your target audience.
- Cross-disciplinary collaboration: business design brings together diverse perspectives from design, engineering, marketing (and, of course, business) to generate innovative, in-depth solutions – and put different departments and teams on the same page.
- Prototyping and visualization: through creating prototypes and mockups, business design helps stakeholders understand – and engage with – commercial solutions.
- Data-driven insights: business design takes a data-focused, analytical approach to decision-making – using qualitative and quantitative data to understand customer behavior, market trends, plus the performance of your business against vital KPIs, performance metrics, and initiatives.
- Culture-first considerations: business design takes into account your business’s values, culture, and internal dynamics to unite your team and coalesce it around a shared vision: then harness this to engender a culture of innovation and growth.
Right – now, you know what business design is – or, at least, the theory behind it.
But how do you actually go about applying business design to your business? How do you take these principles from the pages of the theoretical, and convert them to actionable, tangible strategies… with equally tangible results?
Let’s take a look.
1. Identifying Business Design Opportunities
The first step? Identifying business design opportunities. This involves recognizing areas where your business can innovate, improve the customer experience, or address unmet needs – or, perhaps, the areas that would benefit most from business design.
To identify these, examine customer feedback, dive into the trends characterizing your sector or the wider market, or explore your business’s internal processes through a critical lens.
2. Assessing Pain Points and Opportunities
Next, evaluate your pain points and opportunities. These pain points could lie in your existing operations, products, or services – and capitalizing on them can provide opportunities to innovate and evolve. What do recent customer reviews, for instance, say about the experience you’re giving them? Are there particular issues that, when you explore customer feedback and inquiries, crop up again and again? Note them down.
If you don’t have access to this data, though, you’ll need to get it…
3. Conducting Market Research
You can conduct market research for your business through conducting interviews, hosting focus groups, and sending out surveys to your base of current and prospective customers – with the goal being to understand their preferences and needs, as well as any recurring themes in their behavior.
With all these boxes checked, you’re ready to start implementing business design. Start by:
- Establishing a cross-functional team: assemble a diverse team of interdepartmental minds – from design and marketing to sales and engineering – to ensure a broad array of perspectives and expertise.
- Defining the challenge: clearly state the issue you want to address or the opportunities you want to explore. Here, tools like customer personas, user journey maps, and problem statements can paint a more comprehensive picture of the problem.
- Ideating innovative solutions: encourage brainstorming, mindmapping, and workshops to think creatively and collaboratively – and generate a wealth of potential solutions.
- Prototyping and testing: create mockups of the proposed solutions – these could be physical prototypes, digital mockups, or process flow diagrams. Then, test these with a small group of users to gather their impartial insights and feedback.
- Refining, iterating, and implementing: use this feedback to hone and tweak your approach. This could encompass making design changes, adding new features, or adjusting processes. Gather this data continuously to ensure your chosen approach is never standing still – but always adapting and improving instead.
Successfully integrating business design principles into your operations and way of thinking comes with a glut of benefits, such as:
- Satisfied customers: by resonating with your target audience, you’ll develop stronger bonds with your customers – leading to increased levels of loyalty and satisfaction, plus positive public perceptions (and plenty of word-of-mouth referrals!).
- A sharper competitive edge: by eschewing traditional thinking and its myriad pitfalls, you’ll open up new avenues to creative thinking – opening the door to novel, previously unexplored ideas and solutions. This helps you stay ahead of your rivals, and adapt with agility and confidence to the maelstrom of ever-evolving market dynamics.
- Engaged, collaborative teams: by involving employees from across the business, you’ll break down silos and promote healthy interdepartmental collaboration. Better still, you’ll empower and encourage your employees to feel valued, and contribute their ideas and expertise – leading to a culture of continuous learning and teamwork.
- Smarter resource allocation: by prototyping and testing ideas before implementing them, you can identify deal-breaking issues early on – and reduce the likelihood of resource-intensive projects failing after they’ve already gone to market.
- Long-term business sustainability: by adapting to evolving customer demands and market shifts, you’ll ensure your business’s resilience in the long run – allowing you, and your team, to weather emerging challenges and stay relevant in a changing world.
Like all destinations worth achieving, your road to effective business design will come with no shortage of bumps in the road. There’ll be potholes, pitfalls, and – probably – some pain, too.
But when you arrive, it’ll have been worth the trip.
So what challenges can you expect to come across in your voyage to business excellence – and how can you overcome them with poise and professionalism?
Dealing With Resistance to Change From Within Your Business
One challenge you’re almost certain to face? Resistance to change from within your business.
To overcome this, try:
- Clearly communicating your reasons for adopting business design – and its plethora of benefits. (Refer back to the section above if you’ve already forgotten!)
- Gaining support from the senior leaders and stakeholders of your business. When they actively endorse and participate in business design initiatives, others will follow suit.
- Looking for the little wins! Start with small-scale projects to demonstrate business design’s merits. However minor, these successes will build momentum, and help overcome any internal resistance by showcasing demonstrable results.
Balancing Creativity with Practicality
Your second business design implementation challenge? Balancing creativity with practicality. To vault this particular hurdle, explore:
- Defining clear objectives for – and outlining the obvious constraints of – your proposed business design project. Understanding both its goals and limitations will help guide the creative process toward practical, rather than intangible, outcomes.
- Taking an iterative approach – combining creative exploration with data-driven testing and refinement to shape insights into ideas; and ideas into progress.
Aligning Business Design With Overall Strategy
Your third and final potential stumbling block? Aligning business design with overall strategy.
To solve this, experiment with:
- Articulating exactly how business design efforts will contribute to your organization’s mission and vision (the more specific you can be here, the better!).
- Regularly review and assess the alignment between business design projects and strategic objectives: running regular check-ins to keep initiatives on track and firing.
- Again, involving your leaders – these key decision-makers can bridge the gap between creative exploration and strategic alignment.
Business design, as we’ve seen, is a journey – but fortunately, it’s not one you have to take alone. Ideally, you already have the leaders and stakeholders of your business riding shotgun – so what vehicle are you riding in?
To this end, there’s a superb array of business design tools and resources you can access to make the journey a smoother one. We’ve split them into three subsets, to reflect the unique needs of each of the business design processes and practicalities:
- Design thinking frameworks and models
- User research and feedback collection tools
- Collaboration and prototyping software
Design Thinking Frameworks and Models
Let’s start with design thinking frameworks and models. Some tools and resources you can employ include:
- The Double Diamond model: this model breaks the design process into four phases: Discover, Define, Develop, and Deliver. It’ll help your team explore a wide range of possibilities, and then narrow them down into ideas for implementation.
- IDEO’s Human-Centered Design Toolkit: it provides a comprehensive guide to the design thinking process – including various methods and activities for each phase.
- Stanford d.school’s Design Thinking Bootleg: this resource comes with techniques for empathy building, ideation, prototyping, and testing.
User Research and Feedback Collection Tools
Conducting user research and collecting feedback is, of course, a fundamental part of the business design process. These tools and resources will help:
- Surveys and questionnaires: try platforms like Google Forms, SurveyMonkey, and Typeform to do this quickly and easily.
- User interviews and observations: we all know video conferencing tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams (thanks, COVID-19!) – so use them to conduct remote interviews with users, and capture deeper insights into their needs and behaviors.
- User testing platforms: these allow you to set up user testing sessions for prototypes or existing products, and collect real-time feedback. Try UsabilityHub, UserTesting, and Lookback – all are strong starting points.
Collaboration and Prototyping Software
Finally, we come to tools for collaboration and prototyping software:
- Miro: this is an online collaborative whiteboard that facilitates seamless brainstorming, idea mapping, and visual collaboration among teams.
- Figma: this cloud-based design and prototyping tool enables you to build interactive prototypes and work on crucial design projects in real-time with your team.
Looking to take a design-centric approach to your business strategy – and think creatively in fresh, out-of-the-box ways?
Then it’s time to not only understand business design – but also implement it. To recap:
- What is business design? Business design combines principles from design thinking (a problem-solving approach that emphasizes empathy, ideation, and experimentation) with business strategy.
- What are business design’s key components? Business design’s core tenets are a user-centered focus, cross-disciplinary collaboration, prototyping and visualization, data-driven insights, and culture-first considerations.
- What are the benefits of business design? Business design’s drawcards include more satisfied customers, a competitive edge, more engaged teams, better resource allocation, and long-term business sustainability.
- What challenges might you face when attempting to implement business design? You may experience resistance to change, struggle to balance creativity alongside practicality, and find it tough to align business design with your organization’s overall commercial strategy.
- What business design software and platforms can help? Tools and resources like the Double Diamond Model, SurveyMonkey, and Figma can help you cultivate a design mindset, collect feedback, and collaborate remotely.
Now, all that’s left to do is go give it a shot! Good luck implementing user-centric, design-led business practices into your organization. Be sure to let us know how you get on with this in the comments, and – most importantly – remember that business design is a journey; a ride.
So enjoy it!
To this end, the method we recommend is using a website builder, such as Wix or Squarespace. With a website builder, you can set your business up for success with a slick, striking online presence that’ll set you apart from your competitors.
That said, there’s still a clear process you’ll need to follow to cultivate a captivating, cohesive business website. It includes defining your website’s goals and audience, getting a domain name, and creating relevant, engaging content. Fortunately, it’s a process we’ve broken down in a 10-step guide to how to build a business website – so go check it out!
The business design principles we’ve outlined here will allow you to take a design-centric approach to cultivating a clear, compelling brand identity. But first, we recommend checking out our top brand identity examples. From logos and taglines to tone and typography, these brand identities – including Netflix, Oatly, and Coca-Cola – will inspire and invigorate you!