About creative business
This is an edited version of a paper published in the Journal of Product Innovation Management by Hartmut Esslinger, the 2013 D&AD Product Design Jury Foreman.
Sustainable Design: Beyond the Innovation-Driven Business Model
Design as a young and very dynamic profession has come a long way from individualistic “artsy” creativity to a problem-solving discipline requiring conceptual vision and competent implementation. It has become a respected partner with true power in the business/design alliance. This process hasn’t been easy but what’s new is the rapidly growing recognition of this power and the need for cultivating it. An initial step toward achieving that goal is a firm understanding of the vital role of design in shaping an innovation-driven business model.
What is required next, however, is a reassessment of the innovation-driven business model, its evolution, and to more broadly consider the needs of its various stakeholders.
1. Consumers with complex needs and as members of a larger, interdependent community.
In the larger context of creativity, design is the living link between our human goals and needs and the material culture that helps to fulfil them. Designers and their business partners have an almost unparalleled opportunity to build an environment that’s not only liveable and sustainable, but also fun and culturally inspiring.
design is the living link between our human goals and needs and the material culture that helps to fulfil them
When designers create a new and better object, a mechanism, a software application or a more inspiring, human-centric experience, this becomes a ‘branding symbol’ through meaningful innovation, good quality and ethical behaviours. People recognise the resulting visual symbols as a cultural expression of humanised technology and not just a fashion statement. It must advance our industrial culture by providing sustainable innovation, cultural identity and consistency so as to create emotional and social belonging. Designers have a responsibility to connect and coordinate human needs and dreams with new opportunities and inspirations from science, technology and business in order for products and their usage to be culturally relevant, economically productive, politically beneficial and ecologically sustainable.
2. Today’s underrepresented communities.
The acceleration of globalisation – including the current crisis caused by financial excesses and cultural colonialism – is posing both huge challenges and offering new opportunities. It requires designers that are both talented and competent to influence and define new trends with regards to mastering outsourcing to “lower cost” economies and reversing the current excesses of overproducing generic and hard-to-use products.
Designers also need to invent new concepts for “homes sourcing” by converting local and tribal cultures into beneficial concepts. To succeed as competent and respected “executive partners” in the rational world of business, designers must become creative entrepreneurs or creative executives themselves. However, ultimately, design must rise above commercial-functional benchmarks and aspire to near-eternal cultural relevance.
As a creative strategist and entrepreneur, I am optimistic that this new business paradigm will also promote livelier, lovelier, and more emotionally fulfilling products and a more appealing product culture will actually be part of a winning green strategy. And this will be true for all countries and cultures on Earth. Humanising our industries in Europe and the United States involves developing and implementing an ecological ideal. It will enable us to industrialise poorer countries without destroying those country’s identity and culture. A mobile device, designed, produced, sold, used and recycled in China will not have to compete with one provided by a modular production model in Central Africa, the Baltics or Brazil. It will enable all of us to buy locally and therefore be more closely engaged in the full life cycle, the profits and costs, of our consumable goods.
3. Tomorrow’s communities.
Design, like marketing, still is mostly about driving mass consumption, and anything produced on a mass scale contributes to pollution and global warming. That makes designers and their business clients systemic players in an economic model that has a profound effect on the environment – with significant implications for tomorrow’s communities. The more items we send flying off the production line, according to traditional business reasoning, the better our chances for economic success.
I am optimistic that this new business paradigm will also promote livelier, lovelier, and more emotionally fulfilling products
But now, we’ve realised that the traditional indicators of economic success might not have been giving us the whole story. We’ve seen the powerful influence of design on the business model, and how strong leadership shapes and implements creative, innovation-driven strategies to achieve more sustainable profitability. We also have to understand that design’s role in building sustainability extends well beyond the profits of individual enterprises.
The growing movement toward eco-capitalism isn’t an exercise in “do-goodism”. It’s driven by self-preservation, and it demands a rapid change of course in our approach to production and consumption. We need to envision and design a more intelligent and ecological industrial model of production, product support, and recycling. And our solutions can’t stop with good product designs.
By changing the industrial process model we can both increase the value of a company and improve its sales.
Outsourcing our designs to be produced elsewhere doesn’t eliminate our responsibility for the pollution and other negative outcomes of that production, just as we can’t take care of our own trash problem by tossing it in our neighbour’s yard. The “out of sight, out of mind” paradigm must shift, if we want to be responsible industrial citizens. Again: We need to envision and design a more intelligent and ecological industrial model of production, product support, and recycling.
What is needed next?
Designers, with the help of their business partners, have a strategic opportunity to affect the early stage of the product lifecycle management (PLM) system. In fact, we must define the strategy in that early stage if we want it to be effective. By changing the industrial process model from one designed to support mass efficiency to one designed to promote socially and environmentally responsive innovation we can both increase the value of a company and improve its sales.
This important shift requires a change in the way companies work, and in the way they interact and collaborate with their customers. We have to innovate business models so that customers join executives, employees and owners/shareholders on equal footing as competent “caretakers” of businesses and the world they serve. Designers, whose work forms the interface between humans and science, technology and business, have the obligation and opportunity to shape the drivers of the new ‘green’ economy, and to be on the front lines of that effort.
Hartmut is D&AD 2013 Product Design Foreman, let him see your designs.