In October 2013 I was approached to present a seminar at a popular and reputable regional business show.

As always, I wanted to communicate the value of design and why it is important for any business to consider, so I decided on the simple title, ‘Why Design?’

In the seminar we discussed three levels at which design can work; the benefits that can be achieved and pit falls that can be avoided from utilising or not using design at those stages.

This article, one year on, outlines some of the key points we discovered and makes them available for readers of my blog for the first time.

What is design?

Design is what links creativity and innovation. It shapes ideas to become practical and attractive propositions for users or customers. Design may be described as creativity deployed to a specific end.”

This statement was made by Sir George Cox in his report into creativity in UK business, the Cox Report, in 2005.

Sir Cox’s definition of design essentially explains it as a creative process used to solve a problem. Graphic design, product design, web design, interior design: there are a lot of different problems, hence a lot of different types of design, each with different disciplines and skill sets.

Design is not the same as art, although they are often confused. Art, without wanting to delve too deeply into it, is more often than not a gratuitous product: a personal expression rather than a considered, purpose driven problem solving strategy.

And that is what makes design relevant to business.

But why is it important?

There is a myth about design, brought to light by internationally renowned design commentator Alice Rawthorn.

“…despite its power, design is frequently treated as if it didn’t matter by being trivialised and misinterpreted. It is routinely confused with styling, and with expensive, uncomfortable chairs, gas guzzling cars, or silly shoes. It is typecast as a ploy to trick us into buying things of questionable value, which we will soon tire of.”
Alice Rawthorn

 …It is typecast as a ploy to trick us into buying things of questionable value, which we will soon tire of.”

The aim of the seminar was to help debunk this myth by discussing three key problems design can solve, making it a genuinely powerful and important resource for businesses of all levels to improve their profit and establish/build their brands.

Problem 1:
You are struggling to make a good first impression

I’m thrilled to report that nobody in the seminar failed to wear clothes when they left the house (or at least they remembered in time to dash back in and put some on before they reached the show!) – a great success I’m sure you’ll agree.

And not just that, they had probably all done something with their hair, cleaned their teeth and worn clothes that are appropriate for the environment (i.e. a fairly formal business show).

Humans are generally quite vain like that aren’t we? Our image and personal appearance are naturally very important to us. We know that we only get one chance to make a first impression and we wouldn’t dream of turning up to a conference in our pyjamas, meeting clients whilst wearing a clown costume or going to the gym in our best suit.

For reasons of practicality and a personal sense of pride we want to look our best and present ourselves appropriately.

The same goes for dressing our companies, businesses, organisations, products or services. At a basic level, design gives credibility and an appropriate visual image that you can take pride in and be confident selling.

Imagine walking into a networking setting, for example. You meet three solicitors, one after the other. Each hands you a business card, each of which varies dramatically.


The first card is illegible – script lettering in all capitals, clearly no thought has gone into making sure the card was fit for purpose.

The second looks like it’s been drawn by the solicitor’s toddler or at least for their nursery rather than a professional who requires high levels of trust and responsibility.

The third card is a little dull but the text is readable, the colours and fonts at least feel in keeping with what we’d expect from a solicitor. At that very basic level, design has instantly eliminated the first two from our thoughts (and depending on your own opinion, perhaps the third as well).

You might not even have needed a solicitor but when the time comes, you’re certainly not going to remember those first two.

Are you struggling to make a good first impression?
Design can help you ‘dress appropriately’, giving you credibility and preventing you from missing out on future opportunities.

Problem 2:
You want your customers to buy from you, not your competitors


Great examples of how design can regularly instill confidence in customers can be found everywhere from the supermarket to the local high street.

Being memorable is so important to businesses and brands, and design often has a key part to play. This and the first point are similar yet different.

So, let’s say you set out to buy a tin of beans for your lunch.

The supermarket has four options. Which do you buy?


The first one is marked only with a hand written scrawl directly onto the can. How can you trust that the can does in fact contain beans and not cat food?

The second looks like it was created by a child experimenting with Word Art styles. It looks unappealing and amateur, the inference is that the contents will match the external appearance – best avoided.

The third, well now we’re starting to see design take over. This might be the most popular. It’s clear and credible, you can be fairly confident that the contents will in fact be baked beans of a reasonable standard.

And the fourth, the major brand. If you’re so inclined you may well prefer to pay a bit extra and go with the Heinz option because ‘Beanz meanz Heinz’! And the main factor that influenced your decision? Design.

People trust what they recognise and are sometimes willing to pay more for a branded product so by utilising the power of design you can differentiate yourself from the competition and add value to your product or service.

Do you want your customers to buy from you, not your competitors?
Design can help instill confidence, making you their ‘go-to’ option.

Problem 3:
You want to appeal to new customers.


Targeting a particular customer demographic will require you appealing to them specifically. Knowing what they like and respond well to will give you a better chance of being noticed by them. People are often heavily influenced by visual stimuli so make sure the design of your brand, packaging, website etc. really grabs their attention. Intrigue them and make them WANT it!

Moving your product or service up through the tiers (becoming a premium option, for example) is a great opportunity to make good use of beautiful, aspirational design to reinforce your positioning and make you stand out in the market. Alternatively your target market may respond better to clear and direct calls to action – in which case your design can be tailored to that approach.

Remember, different styles of design provoke different responses and prompt different assumptions, expectations or feelings. Making sure they match your brand is a task that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Do you want to appeal to new customers?
Design can add the wow factor and help provoke desire.


Design is a tool available to almost all businesses – any who chose to invest in it.

There are many kinds of design and many reasons to use it, some we have touched upon here, and many different stages at which different design aims exist (e.g. introduction, growth, diversification, adding value, creating difference etc.).

Whatever stage your business is at, consider design an integral method of communication rather than a ‘nice optional extra’ that you’d pay for if only you had the spare cash.

I’ll finish with another quote, this time from the Design Programme, an independent consultancy service who put businesses in touch with designers who can add value to their existing services.

This is the purpose of design: to identify the challenges your business faces and to develop a solution that gives you that commercial edge.”
The Design Programme (



Have you ever used design to solve one of these problems before? How did that go?

What other problems or situations does your business face that you think design could play a part in solving?

If your business is looking to solve any problem and you think design could help you do that, why not fill in my contact form and send me an email. I’d love to discuss how I might be able to help.

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