Business Design 101

Dec 2, 2022Martín Etchegoyen

The concept of business design combines the tools of business analysts, strategists, and thinkers with the methods and mindsets of designers. Business designers think about how every element of the business model affects the consumer and client experience.

Business Design

It is a way of operating that combines the tools of business thinkers, analysts, and strategists with the methods and mindsets of design. Business designers think about how every element of the business model affects the consumer and client experience. Business designers have permission to think in new ways, so you must go in with optimism, focus on people, and come back and apply an analytical lens to things you think are exciting and compelling for people. A business designer's job is not just to be the viable lens of things, but to figure out how to translate human needs into business goals. It offers a way to experiment with meeting both the needs of the business and the value they want to bring into people’s lives.

Elements of Business Design

We can say that business design applies to design and design thinking to business problems to bring innovation to life. Putting this into the context of a design process, we can say that the business designer has three main functions.

Business Design

1. Frame, direct, and inform the design process through a business lens to ensure design solves business problems effectively.

Understanding the competition to set the contextual frame for designers is crucial for the success of a new service/product. Sometimes designers can become detail-oriented and forget about the bigger picture. One of the reasons why critiques from different points of view are crucial. Business designers frame the design process from a perspective that is different, yet complementary to other disciplines, to ensure the team is moving in the right direction. Below are activities that the business designer can conduct to frame, direct or inform the design process.

The business designer can help frame the problem from a different perspective by analyzing the context and environment to identify external factors to be considered during the design process. Example activities include Trend Analysis and Competitive Analysis.

Similarly to how design research explores how people feel about a certain theme, activity, and existing service, business design can gather insights into the business realm of an organization. Both types of findings can then be gathered together to better identify opportunity areas and generate solutions. Example activities include Ecosystem Mapping, Process Flow Mapping, Business Model Canvassing, and Product Audits.

Generating and prototyping a multitude of ideas is an exciting step to go through during the design process. Yet, it is equally important to make sure the design process is moving in the right business direction, focusing on ideas that are viable alongside the wider business strategy. Example activities include creating Prioritisation Frameworks and roadmapping.

During service and product implementation, it is a common pitfall to forget the original intent. The business designer can make sure that the developed capabilities and features are consistent with the original value proposition and business objectives. In this case, the business designer will have to take his product manager's hat.

2. Translate design solutions into value and impact through a language that business stakeholders are familiar with to prove design provides solutions to business problems.

The pitch decks made back in the days by Facebook, Airbnb, or Uber do not boast about how easy to use or beautiful their design is, they outline the value they bring to their users, backed up by numbers. Design agencies are often filled with like-minded creatives who are used to making points to one another. It can be challenging to explain design decisions and intentions to clients who are unfamiliar with the design process.

Business stakeholders, may not be in the design detail, and often do not spend their time manipulating service blueprints or prototypes. Instead, these stakeholders speak in numbers, business plans, market analysis, and KPI dashboards. To work together effectively you need to adapt our language to make the design work easily digestible for non-designers. One way to do this is to correlate customer value with business value, ideally using numerical values.

Here are some business design activities to do to translate design work into its value and impact through a language that business stakeholders are familiar with. Firstly, articulate the benefits brought by the service/product to be able to measure them during prototyping and implementation. Business designers can do this through the Customer/Business Value Tree, Benefits Case, Proof of Value, Opportunity Sizing, and Business Case.

A similar type of measurement work should also be conducted at the product-level, once the service or product is ready for implementation. The business designer can structure frameworks to embed KPIs within the service, as Whatsapp has done, so that they can track and analyze them during prototyping and once launched, using KPI Frameworks, KPI Tracking & Analysis.

3. Apply human-centered methodologies to strengthen business and financial components of design work to create services and products that are viable.

Business designers ask these questions of users and design teams, pushing them to define business-oriented elements like revenue streams and pricing mechanisms. A service designer collaborates with end users to ideate, prototype, and iterate concepts. The business designer conducts similar activities, but their focus is on the business model of the service or product. Here are activities that the business designer can do to strengthen the business and financial components of the design work through human-centered methodologies.

Business modeling exercises during ideation or concept refinement workshop help define the elements listed below, which then should be tested with prospective users: revenue stream, pricing mechanisms, payment mechanism, cost structure, partnership model, value network, and creation mechanism.

Bottom Line

Business design is something that every designer needs to know about. The importance of it can make a real difference out there, so it is recommendable that you follow these guidelines.

Martín Etchegoyen

Martín Etchegoyen

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