• Transform magazine
  • November 11, 2019

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Opinion: How can design be leveraged to achieve business objectives?

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People have always been fascinated by design. Since the earliest humans splashed paintings of their daily lives onto cave walls, right through to Dieter Rams at Braun or Steve Jobs placing design at the core of Apple’s proposition. After speaking at this year's Festival of Marketing, Andrew Barraclough writes about GSK’s approach to design in pharmaceuticals

Many businesses claim to be good at design with the aim of tapping into the consumer experience. Those businesses might be proud of a smart packaging design, a new logo redesign for the next generation, or a cool new product.

At all levels of business, we must rethink the role of design within our objectives: where can it add value to the overall strategy? And where else can it feed into the business to deliver ROI? Our starting point shouldn’t be the spreadsheet. Instead, we should begin with how it can help improve the lives of our consumers – something especially important in the healthcare sector.

While this may have been enough for businesses in the past, today’s world is far more complex, requiring us to take into consideration an abundance of other elements, from in-app experience to internal branding and multichannel marketing communications. In this reality, saying you want to be good at design is one thing; making design core to the business is another matter entirely.

Part of the problem for businesses that want to do good design is that the discipline is hard to measure and quantify, yet it is, in fact, a part of everything we do in a business from the HR system, with its UX and UI, to the latest product we launch. This unfortunately, can often lead to under-investment and, ultimately, misses the point of design because it is not one big, tangible thing.

When consumers experience good design, they do not quantify what they see, feel, and touch. Design’s simplicity means one needn’t be literate or good with numbers to be able to experience it, while its subtle complexity determines whether it will be appreciated or not. Very few parts of a business can lay claim to such fundamental overarching influence.

Design is creatively agnostic, unworried by share price, social media likes, or gross rating points; obsessed, instead, with the consumer above all else. It is much less a fishhook trying to do one simple job, and much more like velcro – lots of little hooks all adding up to one great net effect. It threads into all nooks and crannies of the business, often invisible when you start looking for it, all of a sudden it is everywhere – company intranet sites, apps, products, packaging, point of sale material the list is endless. 

A failure to adequately leverage design at the strategic level of a business often leads to siloed departments and individualistic behaviour, which is not how consumers think, act, or feel in their experience of the world. A disconnected business then creates a disconnected brand experience for consumers, often leading to poor purchase decisions.

Sales remain an important consideration in all our decisions. But as designers, we have a responsibility to colour outside the traditional lines of our own design silos to ensure that we guide people to make better decisions that will improve their lives. This year’s festival of marketing provided an opportunity to many of my industry peers to commit to more effectively utilising strategic design-thinking to blur the edges between functions, disciplines, media channels – and more – to achieve this ambition.

Andrew Barraclough is the vice president of global design at GSK