Today we’re trying something a bit irregular – we’re taking 10 famous industrial design principles and applying them to business strategy. Because, why not?
The principles were talking about, specifically, are those pioneered by German industrial designer Dieter Rams. If you’ve never heard of him, that’s okay, we’ll cover all the basics you need to know.
We have lots of ground to cover, so let’s jump right in!
Who is Dieter Rams?
Dieter Rams is a German industrial designer. He created designs for consumer products in the past five decades that probably inspired the products that you still use today. Most specifically, he contributed to radios, tape recorders, kitchen appliances, and furniture design.
What’s that got to do with business strategy?
Mr. Rams also contributed something wonderful to the world of design: a simple set of principles that can guide “good design.” These principles, while still relevant in the design world today, also carry significant weight if you think about them in the context of business strategy.
What are the 10 Design Principles?
To Dieter Rams, good design is:
- Makes a product useful
- Is aesthetic
- Makes a product understandable
- Is unobtrusive
- Is honest
- Is long-lasting
- Is thorough down to the last detail
- Is environmentally friendly
- Involves as little design as possible
What is business strategy?
Before we make the connection between the design principles and business strategy, we want to offer you another definition: what is business strategy?
According to Indeed.com: “A business strategy is the actions and decisions that a company takes to reach its business goals and be competitive in its industry.”
Lovely. Now let’s take that thought and rub in some of Dieter’s design principles into the mix.
Innovation is the act of creating something new or improving practices. Well, that’s similar to what strategy is, at least on paper. A strategy is about something new. It’s a set of guiding principles that shape a company and define its movement through time and space. Strategy therefore can be approximated to being innovative.
To think of the future and guide your business through changing trends and new economic conditions, you need to be innovative – you need a business strategy. As a counterpoint, if your business strategy is determined to repeat the past or recycle old ideas, then you’re doing it wrong.
Strategy is the “why” of your business. While you can get distracted and over-complicate the definitions, strategy is truly as simple as that.
It’s common to over-define and create monstrous guiding principles, (we’re looking at you, the all-encompassing Corporate Strategy document). These can actually detract from your business objectives, rather than reinforce them. That leads to strategy being less useful than it can be.
So, go forth and make useful strategies, rather than abstract or overly-complicated ones. Read over your business strategy document and pull out the value it adds to your employees. If you can’t give a brief elevator-pitch summary after a quick analysis, it’s time to rethink your business strategy.
For user design, being aesthetic means when a product builds a sense of awe and inspiration for the value and simplicity of the object. In the same way, a business strategy should appeal to its audiences.
The audiences for a strategy are the employees, leaders, clients, customers, investors and vendors that make up a huge network of potential admirers for your business. Not an easy task!
To carry on a similar thought as the previous point, is your strategy understandable? The best business strategy should be easily understood with just a few bullet points.
Look at an example of one of the most condensed business strategies out there: “sustainability”. A strategy can be that condensed. To illustrate, the word “sustainability” is the very understandable strategy that guides company Fair Harbor, a swimwear clothing producer. It’s swimwear is created from recycled plastics sourced from around the world.
If done right. it doesn’t take a forty-page document to illustrate a strategy,
The Dieter Rams ideology describes an unobtrusive product as such: “Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art.”
The same holds true for business strategy. To provide purpose, a strategy should be practical but not flashy.
You wouldn’t lie to a customer, just to make a sale, would you? That would be dishonest.
Why should a business strategy be any different? Whether intentional or not, it’s common for businesses to say one thing but do another. One of the main purposes of the business strategy should be to encourage meaningful and honest action.
A business strategy should commit to a cause and outline a priority, but remain plausible, too.
The best products outlive trends and media sensations. They are timeless and durable to withstand plenty of usage. Why can’t a business strategy be just as reliable? If done right, a strategy should be future-focused enough to outlast trends and changes. It should also be thoroughly engrained in business practice. If your company practices what the strategy preaches, the strategy will hold up even longer since it will be immortalised in day-to-day operations.
To Dieter Rams, the best designs are thorough down to the last detail. Engineers and designers pour over data sheets and construct elaborate experiments to test their designs.
Likewise, there’s a whole cottage industry that’s enthused to test strategies and discover flaws in business philosophies. You can read all about it in this great write-up from McKinsey & Company.
The crux of the matter is that there are many hidden flaws in corporate principles that can sprout up all over the place. From poor leadership, a bias to keep things never-changing, to just plain overconfidence, a business strategy can crumble in lots of different ways. The best ones are thorough and have survived a rigorous analysis prior to implementing them.
Just like a designer must live in a world of restraints, a business strategist must exist in a constant state of tradeoffs. According to Dieter Ram’s ideals, a conscious designer maximises the value of a product while adhering to principles of sustainability and the conservation of resources. In the same way, the business strategy must adhere to the bottom lines of the business while reducing waste.
A great strategy can help a company to think about future generations while deciding how to utilise the resources of today.
Minimalism, in the design world, is otherwise known as “good design is as little design as possible.”
There’s a neat trick where if a consumer notices a product design, maybe it’s still too flashy. A strategy should operate under similar objectives: transform something complex into something simple and actionable. It should be an invisible but persistent force that drives your company’s activities and reinforces its goals.
Note: a shout-out to Innovation Strategist Philipp Kristian Diekhöner for the inspiration for this article.