Event Recap • Business x People x Design

January 31, 2018 | | View Comments

Keynote Stephanie Gioia shares how good design can be a powerful strategic asset for companies to rethink, restructure, and relaunch.

Defining Design When it Comes to Business

This January, we kicked off a brand new year of Design Museum Mornings with speaker Stephanie Gioia. As a seasoned organizational strategist, Stephanie’s expertise has developed through her work with XPLANE, IDEO, UBS, and the World Bank. She currently serves as an instructor at the Stanford University d.school, and works with businesses both large and small to integrate design strategy as a core principle. Stephanie shared valuable insight on what it means to use design as strategic asset for a successful business.


“Design is really a point of view on the best entry point for innovation.”

When innovation and design converge, novel businesses emerge. Stephanie argues that leaders must strive for desirability, feasibility, and viability. Design-led business must enter through desirability, or customer appeal, and maintain a balance of all three – for many companies, design is an integral part of the corporate structure. Design is no longer reserved for use solely to create products, packaging, or websites, but as a strategic asset.The Danish Design Ladder

One of the primary ways to envision how businesses utilize design is The Danish Design Ladder, which categorizes companies into one of four “rungs.” The approach allows us to see the positive benefits of placing a greater emphasis on design as a strategic position, ultimately linked to higher earnings and success. Design and profit are not mutually exclusive, but rather intrinsically linked.

The first step comprises roughly 40% of companies, and is referred to as the ‘Non-Design’ stage, where design is an invisible part of product development, and is not handled by trained designers. Customer feedback plays little to no significance in decision making. We then progress to ‘Design as Form-Giving’, where design is viewed exclusively as the final form-giving stage, often referred to as ‘styling’. A professional designer may be hired, but has many limitations imposed upon them. Most companies do not progress beyond this stage.

Our penultimate step involves ‘Design as Process’. Design is an approach integrated at an early stage, and is solution driven by the problem and the Users. Customer experience is the driving factor behind every decision. The pinnacle of achievement within the Danish Design Ladder, is the fourth rung, or ‘Design as Strategy’. Design is seen as a primary principle, and is used to rethink the business concept top-down. The company’s potential is fully realized. All the processes, positions, and products exist to improve the consumer’s experience.

Strategic Design in Action

Stephanie has worked with many companies through her work as an organizational strategist – many of whom are ‘Level Two’ working to become ‘Level Four’. She cited two case studies that have successfully embraced and exercised design as a strategy: Warby Parker and Aravind Eye Care. Though each, we can observe how design is integrated into all aspects of the business.

 Warby Parker

With an emphasis on customer experience, low price points, and social responsibility, the online eyewear brand Warby Parker has become a model for success through design. By circumventing traditional channels, designing glasses in-house, and by engaging with customers directly, Warby Parker is able to provide higher-quality, better-looking glasses at a highly reduced price.  In addition, with every pair of $95 eyeglasses a customer purchases, Warby Parker will donate another pair to someone in need. Style, affordability, and philanthropy are shipped right to your doorstep, in one convenient package.

Aravind Eye Care System

What began as an 11-room hospital in 1976, the  Aravind Eye Care System has blossomed into an organization with over 4,000 beds in seven hospitals throughout India. Nearly half of the 300,000 operations performed every year by Aravind staff are provided at no cost to patients in need. What’s more, Aravind is not a charity, but rather a for-profit business enterprise focused on “how you can use your profit and production capacity to serve others[.]”

The Value of Design is Increasing: What Does That Mean for You?

Fiscally conservative companies often find it difficult to rationalize the expense of hiring a non product-driven designer. It’s a huge up-front investment without a clear return. But the mounting evidence shows us that “[d]esign-led companies maintain [a] significant stock market advantage,” even outperforming the S&P by 211% in the last 10 years. In the long run, investing in design is the prudent move.

The market value for designers is going up! Design is becoming less of technical skill, and more of a strategic one. Companies are transitioning towards a more holistic approach to design, where they no longer outsource designs. Instead, they hire in-house strategic designers, who are also integrated into the business strategy for optimal performance. There is enormous potential for further synergy between design, business, and people.

A huge thank you to Stephanie Gioia for this wonderful event!

Design Museum Mornings happen every month! Join us for Revelations in International Education with Jerry Waters on February 9th!