Integrating design in companies
More and more companies are undergoing a dramatic culture change towards innovation and design. This ramping up of design skills entails a certain amount of upheaval when it involves shaking up an already established order. To help these companies, the Business Strategy department, headed by Jean-Luc Barassard, offers them support and guidance which can take a number of forms. Interview with Jean-Luc Barassard and the example of French company LIPPI.
Whether it involves taking on an apprentice, an intern, continuing education, partnerships or hiring a designer, integrating design in a company can take several different forms. Above all, the company must be ready to embrace design and the change in culture which it entails. Jean-Luc Barassard explains why…
Integrating design into a company has to be done gradually
When we observe design practice in companies, we notice that the progression doesn’t happen linearly but incrementally. This phenomenon has been theorized by the Danish Design Council. In fact, appropriating a design culture in isolation isn’t complicated in itself; the difficulties arise when you have to integrate it. Design comes along and shakes up the company culture. It is integrated in a series of steps which could be likened to the incubation phase, acquisition phase, maturity phase and reaching a critical size before the company can begin a new form of progression. This development is unique to each company. It depends on its size, its organization, its technical culture, its market and its environment. The plateau phases can vary. One fairly common feature is the pragmatism needed to go from one stage to the next: the phase must be marked by some form of success. This type of event constitutes a strong grounding and will become a collective reference.
From why to how
First step: why design?
The first hurdle is to understand the role of design. What is its added value? It is crucial to define this point as it allows stakeholders to look ahead and be on the same page with this discipline. In most cases, it is generally a question of informing and educating company personnel. At this stage, it is rarely rejected and the reaction is usually enthusiastic. If some people remain skeptical, it is often because they are afraid of not being able to fit into the models presented: “our market is really specific”, “our clients value our competitive prices above all. Why would we sell them something they don’t need at a higher price?” etc. Conversely, the key players show a desire to take action and often project the absolute necessity of distinguishing themselves from the others and finding an effective solution through design, a solution which can be quickly integrated at the operational level into the company’s existing project process.
In a few rare cases, such as LIPPI, our department was able to give the entire company staff a helping hand in this respect via specific ongoing training sessions. Each participant understood how their profession would be linked to design in the future. The reception was on the whole positive: the training sessions were met with very little resistance and a lot of curiosity.
Second step: how to integrate design?
How do we then integrate a design process? The aim here is to provide methodological approaches to better integrate this discipline into the project process, and propose tools that will facilitate its practical application. The most delicate aspect of this stage is the ability to deal with values which are not measurable and which draw on references which are new to the teams: the esthetic feel, the choice of colors, the suggestion of formal vocabulary, etc.
At this stage, the reflex is to minimize the risk by wanting to stay too close to the global trend. Consequently, the original desire to stand out from the crowd is lost. In fact, the design process forces us to make a choice in terms of artistic direction and this decision should be taken by finding the best compromise between the company’s values and the expectations of the target customer.
The second difficulty is knowing how to handle the product’s newly generated values. Although, by definition, the offer proposes an extra added value, it must be perceived as such by the client and marketed at a fair price. This change can be applied to the whole chain of actors who, individually, may be more or less receptive. We see some losses due to the fact that the company isn’t yet entirely capable of taking full ownership of these new dimensions.
We had the opportunity to support LIPPI in its design approach and, on many occasions, perceived quality was a very important topic. These training sessions made it much easier to have a real dialogue and understand how to promote it more effectively. This metallurgical company, for example, became aware that it needed to upgrade its notion of perceived quality by paying particular attention to the quality of its welds, the packaging, merchandising, etc.
Towards design management
Third step: design management
The third stage is design as a managerial stance. The operational dimension is beginning to be mastered and the chain of actors know how to accompany the whole process; the company is chalking up some commercial success. It has faith in its approach. At the same time, it is beginning to understand that this discipline can be a very powerful lever for repositioning itself in the market. To achieve this, they must work hard to build a strong and consistent identity which requires another way of working. This involves creating a formal reference system and processes which apply to many different people in the company. Design becomes global and impacts on branding, products, packaging and merchandising. It conveys a message and promises a unique experience.
This new way of understanding design results in a proactive approach: the company will start exploring new materials, new processes, observing artistic trends and analyzing sociological developments. The company has transformed its whole perspective and discourse. LIPPI is the perfect illustration of this step as it reached this stage very quickly and transformed its sales pitch as “fence manufacturer” into one of “creators of outdoor spaces”. This stance represents a new field of opportunities for the company and produces a strong dynamic. It builds a promise and a singular universe which becomes tangible thanks to the products and experiences it offers.
Fourth step: strategic design
The last stage is design defined as a strategic lever. It is no longer merely present in the managerial and operational sphere, it becomes a means of exploring changes within the company and seeks out opportunities for connecting the business with these new fields of innovation.
Design comes up with visions and also becomes manager of creativity; it channels the different sources of change. It manages the phenomenon of bottom-up innovation produced internally through spaces of expression and creativity. It experiments with new fields and confronts them with company culture. In addition, the company produces new business models using scenarios that imagine radical hypotheses. Design becomes the facilitator which creates new outlooks for the company. It proposes a thought process which puts the next move into perspective and prepares the changes to be implemented internally in order to find the right tempo and benefit from the windfall effect.
LIPPI is now at this stage. After the continuous training, they took on an intern who was subsequently hired. The company is also involved in the Connected Environments chair with the Banque Populaire Atlantique. This research is a means for the company to draw inspiration regarding the role it can play in our new environments.