Every company should champion design and creativity at board level

All business and life are about selling. Well that’s what Mark Price (Lord Price) the previous Managing Director of Waitrose and former Minister with the Department for International Trade said in a recent book, Workplace Fables: 147 True Life Stories. I like Mark Price and his writings but certainly don’t agree with his view about selling. To me business and life are about design. Just close your eyes and imagine life without it. If your imagination could handle this, and when you opened your eyes you would be standing in a field stark naked, because nothing apart from nature would exist. If you had bad eyesight things would be blurred and any illnesses could not be medicated. You may even have trouble eating unless you found some palatable vegetation or a creature willing to be caught, unless of course it did not eat you first.

The point is, everything is first designed, then engineered, prepared for production and then comes the marketing bit, which includes selling. All the engineering, manufacturing and marking elements are also driven by design. Without creativity you don’t even get to the starting gate.

I believe that every company should place design and creativity on their board agenda and ensure they have a champion. Companies who innovate in all aspects of their business are more likely to compete at a more consistent level. The creative champion, who I believe should have a strong influence on Marketing and Design, should also understand the commercial aspects of creativity and what customers need. The word “need” is hugely relevant, as what a customer wants to buy, they do not always know.

Take the popular anecdote about why you buy a power drill, is it for the drill?

No, you are buying holes. In which case any device that makes accurate holes in the most effective way, is what they want.

So, understanding customer needs before, during and after the design process is why design and marketing are so closely related – “Anticipating, identifying and satisfying customer needs profitably” was the foundation of my business education.

The design champion on the Board should also establish, protect and promote the ethics of original design. For some reason the legal protection of “design rights” in products has struggled to reach the same standard as Patent and Copyright © legislation even after years of campaigning, and the process of protecting original design is particularly challenging for smaller companies.
Designers may at times conjure from their imagination things they have seen in the past through education and experience, but the real source of many breaches are intentional, and in my experience, have been driven by a demand to make original designs at a lower cost. Any business accepting a request to plagiarise an original design, even when subterfuge is employed, cannot plead innocence, as what they must do as a routine, is confirm design ownership.

Registering designs is highly advisable as the intentional infringement of a registered design is now a crime enshrined in 2014 IP Act. Section 53 of the CPDA (Copyright, Designs and Patents Act). Registration can be done at the IPO (Intellectual Property Office) now relatively easily with online registration, although you need finance to enforce! There is also a very useful service available from ACID (Anti Copying in Design) who can store designs on their IP Database and have additional services to support the protection and the marketing of designs. Worth exploring, I think.
There is really no need for designers to experience the chill of being naked. By raising the importance of design to board level and taking a proactive stance with the process of designing new products, these valuable assets can achieve the reward they deserve.

Image: Vitra



Colin Watson is the CEO of business consultancy Watson King