As part of our flagship Design Economy 2018 research, Design Council commissioned BOP Consulting to develop seven case studies to sit alongside the economic analysis and survey, bringing to life how some firms are using design.
The case studies provide insights from a range of firms, in different parts of the UK, applying design to different contexts. Some are firms providing design services directly and others are firms working in other sectors but using design in a systematic or strategic way.
We have purposefully focused on firms leading or changing their sector in some way. The purpose of these case studies is not to be representative of the sector, but to provide insight into the way some firms are doing design, what design capabilities are important and how firms understand the impact of their design work.
Meet the case studies
Over the following months we will be publishing a ‘deep dive’ into the following firms:
City ID is a city information, urban and wayfinding design company based in Bristol and working internationally. The firm applies visual design and service design techniques to develop physical products and design solutions in the urban environment. Starting with an early innovative project in Bristol, City ID has developed a market for design in urban environments in the UK and more recently the US.
Fjord is an international design and innovation consultancy which was acquired by Accenture Interactive in 2013. It has a structured design process and is increasingly working at a senior level within clients’ organisations, applying design thinking to strategic business challenges. Fjord’s approaches have been adopted and rolled out across Accenture, leading to impacts for clients and changes across the organisation.
Map is an industrial design firm based in East London doing work with both major brands (Google, IBM, Virgin Atlantic) and start-ups in the consumer technology space. Map is passionate about making products – that extends across physical products and digital experiences, frequently designing with and for new technologies including artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and autonomous vehicles.
Monzo is a digital challenger brand in the retail banking sector which is using design to build trust and differentiate themselves to customers and investors. The company has a strong culture of design and is establishing systematised user research and design processes to enhance the understanding of design across the firm.
Page\Park Architects is a renowned Glasgow based mid-sized architecture practice which has designed many iconic public buildings across Scotland. It is employee-owned and architects at all levels take an active role in the day-to-day running of the firm.
Studio Moross is an interdisciplinary design and creative studio, specialising in work for the music industry, entertainment and broadcast sector, consumer packaged goods, and food and beverage. The company culture of collaboration and openness is reflected in its approach to recruitment, working practices with clients and project selection.
The Guardian—part of Guardian Media Group—has a strong culture of design both in terms of the products it produces (print and digital) but also, increasingly, how design thinking can contribute to organisational change and development. The Guardian redesigned its print and digital products in January 2018.
About the research
The aim of the research was to provide in-depth insight into the role of design within businesses. A sample of businesses was chosen based on having a range of sizes, geographical locations, sectors and diversity characteristics of ownership and management.
BOP drew on a light touch review of relevant literature to develop a research framework:
- Resources and investment
- Understanding clients and customer needs
- Understanding how firms view and use design
- Future skills, knowledge and understanding requirements
- Skills, knowledge and understanding currently used
Impact of design
- Relation to incremental or disruptive innovation
- Ability to create new meanings and experiences
The fieldwork was carried out in two rounds: an initial phone call, followed by visits on site with each of the firms. These visits included interviewing the design leaders and senior teams within the firms as well as the designers undertaking project work. In some cases, phone interviews with clients were also conducted.
Analysis of interview transcripts was conducted by identifying recurring themes and then iteratively reviewing these with input from Lucy Kimbell, Director of the Innovation Insights Hub and Professor Contemporary Design Practices, University of the Arts London.
The firms selected here are diverse – in terms of design disciplines, size and location. They cover graphic design, product—both digital and physical, service and systems design, and design for the built environment. Two of the seven sit outside the traditional design sector, but are both applying design strategically in different contexts – one in publishing and the other in retail banking.
The firms in these case studies illustrate how design is being applied to new and increasingly complex environments—from city wayfinding through to service design which focuses on tackling key commercial challenges.
For these seven firms, design is collaborative and iterative. In some cases, responsibility for and engagement with design is being widened and elevated, now reaching the very top of companies’ organisational chart.
Design research and rapid and frequent user testing continues to be a core component of the design process and making quick and iterative physical or digital prototypes is an essential part of this. Designers we spoke to feel their work is still rooted in analogue skills.
The firms studied here value the soft skills of designers. Strong communication which includes active listening and increasingly writing, facilitate cross discipline collaboration within the design process.
Technological developments have brought new possibilities for design and these seven firms are responding by developing their capabilities to match. Within the case studies to follow over the next few months, there are examples of the rise of the ‘coder-designer’, new animation and motion design capabilities and developing capabilities in building information modelling (BIM) and 3D design processes. In some contexts, designers’ ability to understand and interpret data is becoming increasingly important.
Even within this group of firms, there is evidence that small firms are creating new international markets for UK design, contributing to export and business growth. For some of the larger firms in the case studies, design is becoming part of the organisational culture.
The challenges around diversity in the design workforce are recognised by all the firms in this study. While some feel their hands are tied by the talent pipeline coming out of universities, others have a pro-active approach to re-balancing the workforce.
The research outlined some challenges for the sector, including diversity, procurement and measuring impact.
The lack of diversity in the design workforce is recognised by all the firms in the case studies. Approaches vary to tackling it and there are some examples of pro-active steps that even small firms are taking to address systemic issues. As well as recent work to explore the impact of diversity on business performance , Design Council will be conducting in-depth research with more design firms to explore best practice around diversity and inclusion.
Another common challenge is procurement. For some small firms, public sector procurement rules—and framework agreements in particular—mean access to contracts is difficult and risky. Some of the case study firms suggest that procurement processes hinder the collaborative creative process, by requiring visualisations and design ideas before a discussion with clients is allowed (which means initial design happens in isolation). This warrants further consideration.
Finally, it can be challenging to determine the contribution of design to the overall impact of new products, buildings or services. Support may be needed to collect this data more systematically, providing an opportunity for firms to better articulate the value of their work.
A list of interviewees from each company can be found with each case study. We would like to thank all contributors for their time and input into this research.
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