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How important is design for your business in 2015?

The business year is just a few weeks old yet it’s already setting an aggressive pace thanks to a tougher economic climate, savvier customers and an explosion of disruptive tech. To stay relevant in an always-on and increasingly competitive world, innovative design thinking should be on the 2015 business agenda.

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1. Design solves business problems

Last year’s World Design Capital 2014 challenged everyday people to ask “What If” they viewed the world through a design lens? Applied to myriad social, environmental and economic issues by hundreds of officially recognised #WDC2014 projects, its power to transform was elevated on a global stage. The same applies to business.

Read more: 17 of our favourite tech startups recognised by Cape Town #WDC2014

Used strategically to address employee engagement, customer acquisition or profitability, design thinking can radically reform a challenge into an opportunity. Take for instance smart pizza brand, GreenBox. It redesigned its packaging so that its box could be used as four plates or made smaller to store leftovers easily in the fridge. A simple solution driven by design.

2. A confused mind does not buy

It’s no coincidence that the world’s largest search engine’s interface is utterly minimalist or that sleek UX (User Experience) converts. Purposeful design guides clients through webpages, subtly directing them to the desired action. With ecommerce and mcommerce on the rise in South Africa, quality navigation and user-friendly web experiences drive commercial success. Yet too many businesses sell themselves short with a below average, and at times confusing, website. Advocates of simplicity, good designers cut through the clutter so that only what truly matters remains, creating a quality experience that converts.

3. Empowered customers trust you more

Social media gave the people power. But a side-effect has been a global decline in trust. It’s no surprise then that flat design (as pioneered by Windows 8), iconography and visual communication are seen more and more in “serious” places like annual reports and legalise. Its simplicity empowers people which in turn builds confidence and trust – a must in an increasingly savvy and transparent society.

4. Design is proven to impact the bottom-line

Apple, Coca-Cola, IBM and Starbucks are among global companies that outperformed the Standard & Poor’s 500 – a stock market index of 500 large publicly traded companies – by 285% over the past 10 years! This was revealed by the Design Management Institute, a NGO based in Boston, US, that analyses design management.

Read more: Apple tops Google, Coca-Cola once again as 2014′s most valuable brand

They proved that profitable design-led companies invest in smooth user experiences, beautiful branding and innovative advertising.

5. Competitive advantage packed in a picture

You know you have the final logo when it cannot be used for any other brand. Replicated online and in real-life, in any size, it firmly yet subtly reinforces a business’s values, ethics and purpose – no copy required. Nike’s iconic swoosh is still one of the world’s best examples while in SA FNB is a notable home-grown logo that captures the brand’s African identity.

6. Design speaks human

Steve Jobs said “design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.” In other words its character is what appeals to customers and keeps them coming back. He and designer Jonathan Ives arguably created a host of products that won our hearts and changed our lives forever.

While you may not become the next Apple, applying Jobs’s logic by creating a brand that engages customers on an emotional level can reap dividends. Take the Daddy’s Group for instance (of the Old Biscuit Mill and Old Mac Daddy fame). Its unconventional experience attracts swarms of urban hipsters to Woodstock every weekend while its funky Airstream trailer park put it on the local tourist map – without a cent being spent on traditional advertising!

7. Learn from Larry

In today’s competitive business landscape, the now famous phase “Good design is good business”, coined in 1956 by IBM’s long-term Chairman-CEO Thomas Watson Jr., is a modern truism. The challenge now is for companies to take this seriously and make design-thinking a priority. Just like Larry Page did when he joined Google. Today the global search-engine is a tech powerhouse renowned for its sleek, minimalist interface. Why? Because design has a seat at the table.

As the year gets into full swing, I invite business-owners to follow in Page’s forward-thinking footsteps and put design on the business agenda. It may well be worth the risk.

Image by Emiliano via Flickr

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