Being an entrepreneur seems effortless to non-entrepreneurs. But the people who have taken the plunge know just how stressful and chaotic it can be to build a business. You must creatively work your way around unexpected setbacks, you have to keep a strategic mind and overview and be truly dedicated. Because in all honesty, you will get knocked down a few times before getting it right.
Now, time for some good news: there is something that can help you deal with these set-backs. It is crucial in modern business for differentiating your value proposition from your competitors. This element can be the driving force behind transforming your entrepreneurial aspirations into true success, enter ‘thoughtful design’.
While ‘design’ is everywhere, ‘thoughtful design’ is the design that is there to delight your customer. It excludes the unnecessary design efforts. To further explain, it helps to divide ‘design’ into ‘design disciplines’. As an entrepreneur you can think of these disciplines as superpowers. Depending on your business challenge you’ll use more of one superpower over another. To overcome any challenge, it’s essential to know the powers at your disposal and which are most fitting.
This discipline is overlooked by many, yet it is almost always relevant. Whether you’re offering a physical or digital product, in B2B or B2C, service design is a design discipline you definitely should master. It’s the backbone of your business. If you can think customer-centric and succeed in your customer journey with the right touchpoints, your customers will be loyal and choose you over your competitors.
Service design in a nutshell:
- Understand your target audience (their pains, needs and desires)
- Envision how your customers will interact with your business (when, where, how, what are the key moments to create delightful interaction moments, what customer actions can you automate,..)
- Envision how the entire business will operate behind the scenes (what information will be stored where, when must which employee or department be in contact with whom, how, etc.)
- Iterate and improve (ask customers on a regular basis to provide feedback so you can continuously improve your services and maintain your competitive edge)
At Achilles Design, we believe that product design stretches widely. For instance, when our product designers work on beautiful furniture for a fancy event, the look and feel of the design is what matters. But when we design a medical device for hospitals, we focus on material characteristics such as cleanability, usability, efficiency, etc. The aesthetics are less of an issue here. So, product design is not just about looks. If you want fancy renders, you can easily use tools such as Midjourney or Stable Diffusion. We also rely on these AI-tools to efficiently come up with design directions and idea spaces. But product design goes beyond what you see in an image. Great product design takes into account functionality, usability, human emotions… and let’s not forget: sustainability.
Product design in a nutshell:
- User-centered design. You have to gather insights on the needs, wishes and interactional behavior of the people who’ll use your product.
- Create a beautiful balance between form and function. Depending on the product type and goal, the scale can tip over to either one.
- Aim for usability by adopting best practices, industry standards, and through user testing.
Digital products are all around us, you’re looking at one right now. As an entrepreneur you won’t always need to develop a physical product, but you might still need a digital product design, such as a website or a platform for your customers. Thoughtful digital designs, same as product designs, go beyond the aesthetics and technical development. For example, think about how a user flow can be optimised for fewer clicks and how this boosts conversion rates. Or how an intuitive design can reduce the amount of false user interactions.
Digital design in a nutshell:
- The same bullets of product design apply here as well, the importance of iterations for instance. Physical products are user tested to be improved. Digital products generate massive user data that are insightful for improving your design as well.
If you’re active in B2B, your brand experience is heavily defined by the way your customers interact with your business. That’s what service design is all about, remember? Brand design definitely plays a role in B2B, but it’s critical in B2C. In this type of market, you’ll miss out on a lot of potential consumers if your branding is not right. That’s because today’s competitive landscape is, well, extremely competitive. It has become a crowded place, so your brand needs to stand out. Thoughtful brand design is about communicating values in a genuine way, it’s building an identity that your consumers will resonate with. Well-designed brands make impressions that their intended target customers won’t easily forget and will have a distinct advantage over their competitors.
Brand design in a nutshell:
- Determine your brand mission, values and identity. Once these are clear and aligned, designing brand assets (like the logo, typography, colour palettes, tone of voice, etc.) and all your touchpoints will feel more natural.
- Coherence. All your brand communication must be consistent in its look and feels. That’s what makes a brand recognisable and trustworthy.
If there’s a space that is highly important for your business operations or your customers to visit, spatial design is essential. For restaurants, hotels or retail it is clear that a space that appeals to visitors equals returning customers. But spatial design also covers optimising your business processes that take place in a physical environment. Think of smart back office projects, such as the design of an automated dark store.
Spatial design in a nutshell:
- Think of how people could, would, should and should not act in a space.
- In case the goal is to impress or please visitors, there are a lot of things to consider: lighting aesthetics, materials, brand consistency across all interactions with the space, staff, interfaces, etc.
- If the goal is to increase efficiency, there’s also a lot to take into account. There’s the accessibility of the space, positioning of elements that are related to complete a job, ergonomics, enabling technologies to speed up or entirely automate processes, flexibility in converting the space to fit new processes, and so on.
It’s safe to say that the entrepreneurial journey entails more than a good business idea. It requires strategy, dedication, a can-do mentality and a commitment to the art of design. Service design that orchestrates outstanding customer journeys. Product design and digital design that build highly functional and beautiful products. Brand design that creates unique brand identities and experiences. And last but not least, spatial design that maps out the environments for your customers and staff.
These 5 design disciplines and the seamless interactions between them make a business not just survive, but thrive in this competitive and crowded marketplace. Remember, these 5 superpowers are about more than just good aesthetics. They are the tools to build impactful value propositions and create meaningful experiences. As you build your business, be open to adopt these tools and see where they can take you.