Amidst today's uncertain economic conditions, organizations struggle to meet their innovation mandates.

By definition, innovation involves continuous reinvention. A well-designed organization attracts and retains top talent, just as better-designed products and services attract customers. Yet organizations resist change and lack the courage to re-design themselves and adapt to uncertain socio-economic conditions.

As an emerging practice, Business Design integrates business thinking with design doing to meet the needs and desires of customers and stakeholders alike. How can it be applied in our organizations?

During our recent Innov8rs Learning Labs on Foresight & Business Design, we discussed these topics with Dr. Angèle Beausoleil (Assistant Professor at University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management). As a pracademic who has spent over 25 years designing and launching innovation processes, Angèle shared with us what happens when business meets design and what it takes to apply the science and art of innovation.

What Is Business Design?

Academic and industry literature first mentioned Business Design in the early 1990s. This concept involves integrating business with design, as well as designing and re-designing an organization to remain competitive.

Business Design is a systemic application of human-centered design to all business activities; a systematic and integrative application of management frameworks, anthropological methods, and design principles to organizational challenges and opportunities. In other words, Business Design is an agile approach to design-driven innovation.

Still, why is designing and re-designing our businesses and processes so important?

Why Business Design?

The market and the world are changing. Accordingly, organizations must evolve and continually re-design their business models, operational systems, and KPIs to better serve both internal (employees) and external customers. As Einstein once stated, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results". Thus, thinking the same way and using the same methods will always yield the same results.

Essentially, the discipline of business design is about applying the same approach of designing a great product or service to designing a great business. However, most companies still struggle with designing innovation to occur more frequently, more consistently, and more predictably, falling prey to a two-stage traditional innovation development process:

1. Start (Initiation): the focus is on defining the problem to solve (without questioning it) and then deciding to invest in its solution.

2. Solve (Implementation): the focus is on developing and delivering a solution to the assumed problem.

C-suite control and predictable returns are the hallmarks of this model. Products and services are typically improved or innovated incrementally as a result. Too little time and effort is spent on identifying and defining the problem, whereas too much is invested in developing and engineering a solution.

Angèle proposes a design-driven innovation development model as a solution to this dilemma. Design-driven innovation involves designing, developing, delivering, and managing innovations that meet customers' needs. As such, defining the right problem to solve is the first step. This customer-centered design model involves four non-unidirectional and highly malleable steps:

1. Start (Initiation): initiate a project based on the problem hypothesis, create a project (design) brief and research plan to investigate the assumed problem.

2. Find (Investigation): investigate and validate needs associated with the problem hypothesis. Research, collect, and analyze data to find needs and solve the right problem.

3. Frame (Integration): integrate insights and ideas into prototypes, frame and reframe the problem to solve, test prototypes with external and internal stakeholders.

4. Solve (Implementation): design, test, and implement final prototypes; design and deliver a solution to the problem; evaluate the solution to determine if the problem is solved or not.

The first two stages focus on defining the right problem to solve. The last two stages focus on designing the right solution. Each step requires reflection before decision-making. This model enables organizations to prototype solutions before investing significant resources in designing and implementing the final solution. “Designing an innovation process is like planning a journey: identify your starting place, points of interest, and destination. Then add the magic, mates, and methods”, says Angèle.

The Business Design Method

According to Angèle, navigating the complex and uncertain innovation journey requires maps. "Maps show the real world on a smaller scale. We use them to travel from one place to another. We use them to organize information and figure out where we are and where we want to go. We process blindly without maps", she says.

The Business Design Method (BDM) is a map, an end-to-end and step-by-step approach to sustained innovation. It enables organizations to re-design their processes, systems, and offerings to focus on customers. As mentioned, design-driven innovation facilitates ongoing dialogue with stakeholders, resulting in insightful and informed decision-making. The BDM simplifies this process into four steps aligned with the four phases of design-driven innovation:

1. Start (Initiation): to trigger or initiate the innovation project, ask the following five specific questions: what problem are we trying to solve? For whom (for our intended customers or for us)? Why does it matter? How have others tried to solve it? How might we solve it?

2. Find (Investigation): to find end-users, needs, facts, problems, and insights, use methods like field research and netnography. Interviews are only as good as if they can be further corroborated and combined with field observation. In fact, what consumers say may not necessarily reflect what they do. And so, bringing in behavioral data, insights, themes, and patterns to meet the transactional data is paramount.

3. Frame (Integration): frame the right problem to solve, generate ideas and prototypes, and test. If you need a deeper understanding of your intended end user or customer, go back to “find” and do more research.

4. Solve (Implementation): solve problems, resolve needs, and measure.

Defining and understanding the right problem our ideas are trying to solve is essential. And this method helps determine the right problem first and design the right solution accordingly, in an iterative process. For this purpose, you need to control less and map more what is known and what is potentially unknown. That's really the point of engaging with customers.