Design as the new marketing?

December 10, 2008

“Thinking like a designer can transform the way you develop new products, services and processes and even strategy”. These are words by Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO. He is evangelising the idea of what he calls ‘design thinking’.  In an article at the Harvard Business Review he writes:

“As more of our basic needs are met, we increasingly expect sophisticated experiences that are emotionally satisfying and meanigful. These experiences will not be simple products. They will be complex combinations of products, services, spaces and information. They will be the ways we get educted, the ways we are entertainted, the ways we stay healthy, the ways we share and communicate.”

 According to Tim, “design” is longer just about styling or aestheticts but more about innovation.  There are more proponents of this idea. For instance, Josphine Green from Philips Design  claims that ‘design’ will be new marketing of the 21st century (as part of here presentation around ‘social innovation’).  The way I intrepret this comment is that tradionally, (product) marketing function is in charge of the product creation process whereas more and more ‘design thinkers’ (should) take charge of this process.

That brings me to the question as to how corporations should (re)organise their product creation and innovation process. From my own experience, typically product marketeers play a central role in the creation process, starting by defining product functionality and specs.  Marketeers often act from a narrow view of the type of products  they (are allowed to) work on (in Wacom’s case, the product marketeer for pen tablets thinks about computer interaction as ways to use pen input with a computer).  It is not hard to imagine that this kind of process results in products that are fairly similar to past products and that real innovation is very difficult to achieve.

According to Tim and Jospehine, design thinkers should play the central role in the creation process. In a collaborative way, they should lead a group of marketeers, engineers and end-users throughout the complete design process. This is not limited to the initial creative fuzzy idea phase, but goes all the way from ideation to implementation. For instance, it includes supporting marketing to design a communication strategy.  

For corporations that do not want to rely on the IDEO’s of this world to create new products, where in the functional lines do you put these ‘design thinkers’. They do not naturally belong in any of the functions such as marketing, development or engineering. Should it be a function in itself? If so, which place in it the hierarchy does it belong to?

By the way, I regard myself as ‘design thinker’, even though I do not have a design background and I do not think of myself as ‘designer’. Maybe it would be better to think of some other term, in direction of ‘creation’ or ‘innovation’. Anyway, I would appreciate any examples of how corporations are dealing with this issue, e.g. how they are organising themselves for the new century.

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