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Prof. Jan-Erik Baars
Photo: JEB

Design means much more than creating beautiful shapes and surfaces. Good design in all its facets is undoubtedly a central factor for the success of companies. Numerous studies have proven this and best practice examples such as Apple, Tesla, dm or Patagonia make it comprehensible in their own way. Responsible for economic success is “excellence thinking”, which is also found in design: “They want to optimally develop their ability and do everything they can to develop it.” With Prof. Jan-Erik Baars from the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts, “bayern design” was able to win over an international expert for a comprehensive study on the design capability of companies. Baars, author of the design management handbook “Leading Design”, tried to clarify how design skills can optimally develop in a company. Within the framework of case studies with the companies Miele and USM as well as an online survey of 57 other companies, according to the study report, “a comprehensive framework was created that captures and describes design capability”. The goal was to develop a “maturity model” that “supports companies in recognising strengths and weaknesses and thus also in developing design excellence”.

First, various aspects of design capability were collected and enriched with qualitative feedback from interviews with managers at Miele and USM. In an empirical study conducted using an online questionnaire, 18 criteria for evaluating design capability were then derived and transferred into a framework. The evaluation of the answers of the 57 companies, according to the study report, revealed a differentiated picture: “Overall, the capability is rated as insufficient, whereby the results for the top and low companies are far apart.” It was striking that “the ability to plan and direct design” was rated far worse “than the competences of the design creators themselves”. This means that design management was identified “as the construction site in most companies” and was rated as an “underdeveloped but essential skill”. The participants in the survey see the development of this competence not in the designers, but elsewhere in the organisation. It is also clear that “top companies are bundling their brands and design activities and bringing them together strategically and operationally in order to create a coherent and consistent overall image”.

A less surprising result of the study is that there is a clear correlation between design capability and corporate success: “Companies with excellence thinking and an appropriate approach to design achieve a significantly higher customer appeal and see themselves as more resiliently positioned. Design-capable companies can harness the potential of managed design and secure both top- and bottom-line advantages.” Above all, management must develop the ability to use design optimally for the company and to create the framework conditions that enable designers to contribute their expertise. This is an important task of business management that is not really being taken up at the moment, “with the exception of brand management”. The author of the study therefore believes that adding design management tasks to the latter would be “an important and purposeful step in the development of design capability in companies”.

The detailed study report can be downloaded as a PDF. On 22 November, Prof. Jan Erik Baars will present the main results of his study in an online event in cooperation with the design associations designaustria, International Design Zentrum Berlin (IDZ) and the Swiss Design Association (SDA). Participation is free of charge, but registration is required.

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