We are the champions: how marketers can help turn Kiwi companies into world-beaters

Better by Design has been working on building the next generation of design-led Kiwi business for almost ten years. We’ve developed a programme to transform high performing Kiwi companies into world-beaters by integrating design into their cultures and our goal is to help more companies become the next Icebreaker, the next Fisher & Paykel, or the next Formway.

Our process requires champions within each company; senior executives who can lead each company’s transformation around fundamental principles drawn from the world of design. We believe marketers are the natural people to take this role, because the first principles of design are the first principles of marketing. 

Marketers are natural design champions because they’re comfortable dealing with the language of design. Often companies fail to embrace design because of the view that design is a narrow and specialised field. Part of the problem is that there’s little consensus on what design actually refers to. Some see it as ‘toasters and posters’. To others it’s the act of creating a new product or service. Or something that’s added to a product at the end of the development process.

It’s all those things—and more. We talk about design in three quite different ways:

Design Doing (design as craft)

This is the traditional view of design, the craftsmanship involved with giving an idea a physical expression. Design “doing” loosely fits within three main categories:

• Graphic design: logos, packaging, digital or type-based.

• Industrial design: physical creation of objects or products.

• Service design: the intentional sequencing of steps to deliver a holistic customer experience. 

Design Thinking 

Design thinking is a process of solving problems and creating value. It’s based on the process that the great designers use for “design doing”, but it has relevance for solving any problem within a business. It starts with gaining deep empathy for the customer and their needs. It involves convergent and divergent thinking; imagining the impossible, and then synthesising to what is feasible. It emphasises rapid prototyping and testing and requires intelligent and brave trial and error. Design thinking used to be the domain of the design department, but when it’s applied across a business, it changes the culture of a company. It aligns everyone behind the same goals and gets the company moving purposefully in the same direction, creating new products and services that customers love, and buy repeatedly at higher margins. 

Design Integration

Design integration is the goal of our Better by Design programme. It’s the state a business reaches when it has deployed design doing and design thinking throughout all components of the organisation. Companies that have achieved design integration have put their customers at the centre of their business and are using the principles of design thinking across all areas of the business to solve problems. They’re enjoying customer loyalty, and higher margins than their competitors who haven’t worked out the design integration secret.

Becoming design-integrated requires a fundamental change to the way you work—and complete commitment from the chief executive down. This is mandatory. But there’s another human factor that’s just as critical. In every design-integrated company there’s an energetic and passionate design champion, who always pushes the company to stay true to the principles of design thinking. Marketers make some of the best design champions because they understand design thinking intrinsically. Most of the really good marketers I’ve ever come across deploy design thinking instinctively every day. Really good marketers, like really good designers, see their customers’ experience of their products and services as the prime purpose of their entire organisation. They’re always looking to understand their customers’ unmet needs. They create lots of ideas to find a single good one. They try things and they’re not afraid to fail.  

The first principle of design integration is teaching everyone else in the organisation to see the world the same way. Building a company from the customer experience outwards is what design-integrated companies do.  

At Better by Design we believe passionately that the next era of Kiwi prosperity will be built on the back of a generation of design integrated companies, generating high value-added export income from markets all over the world.

To get there we’ll need a generation of chief designers, design champions with the vision and courage to understand the potential power of design, and the communication and leadership skills to sell it throughout an organisation. Sound like you?

  • Melissa Jenner is director of NZTE’s Better by Design. 
  • This article originally appeared in the July/August edition of NZ Marketing. 

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