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People usually equate design with drawing. Drawing is a great communication skill to have and the ability to draw is, for want of more coherent design teaching in schools, what often singles young people out for a career in the creative industries. But it is far from being the only attribute a designer can offer business.

For me, effective design is essentially based on creative thinking: a designer’s bravery to challenge the norm by asking ‘what if?’ and follow it through. It is about innovation, but innovation backed by research into customer expectations, markets, materials and processes rather than for its own sake. Designers listen attentively and act on the information received, tempering it with their own experience. And whether it involves a product, campaign or service, a design project is invariably driven through a collaborative process that takes designer and client from brief to completion in defined stages.

The best design also incorporates a plan to assess costs from the outset and evaluate return on investment throughout the process. This way there are fewer surprises on completion of a job, whether the work is generated by a creative consultancy or a design team employed within the client business.

People in business could usefully emulate a design approach in all areas of their work. It starts with putting people first, whether that’s the intended customer, suppliers or staff – who are, after all, a company’s greatest ambassadors. Design embodies the spirit of enquiry into new ways of doing things, bringing greater fulfilment to everyone concerned in the business. It integrates effective measurement systems, but also the fun of sharing ideas and outcomes.

Perhaps the most effective way for a business to embed a creative approach within its culture is to work closely with designers at a senior level. Having a designer on the board, full-time or as a non-executive director, is a great way of achieving this. If that isn’t feasible, I would suggest employing someone experienced at commissioning design to work directly with the board, as long as that person has a voice in other company decisions.

In 2007 the UK Design Council produced a report equating design with business performance. Markets have expanded since its publication, but the basic premise that design benefits business still holds true.

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