Frequently Asked Questions

General questions on design in business

Many businesses are really feeling the impact of COVID-19 now, why is this a good time for them to embark on journeys to use design in business, especially if they are committing resources to survive in the current situation and/or if they are new to design?

  • The COVID-19 situation has definitely accelerated disruption and change, but even though a lot of businesses are concentrating on survival, it could also a good time to take a step back and look at some of the key business drivers that could help the business pivot, or to help them adapt to the new normal.
  • Design offers a user-centred approach that could help companies better understand their customer needs and challenges. With those insights, companies could bring about change and reimagine their businesses.
  • Dsg understands that during this period, resources are certainly constrained for many businesses. Most of Dsg’s Design for Business initiatives can be completed within 1-2 months and can be feasibly completed even in such difficult times. In the case of the BVoD programme, the main Aspire and Act phase is designed to be contained within a concise 2-to-3 week period to provide quick insights and a sense of direction for the key actions forward.

Is design thinking the same as a customer-centric approach?

They can typically be taken to refer to the same thing. Design-thinking is human-centred as it balances the promise of technology and the business viability to pursue delightful customer-centric solutions and impactful business outcomes.

What would the scope of design thinking cover in relation to business?

Design thinking is a human-centred approach to innovation and focuses on user desirability of a product/service that the company is working on. It is complemented by other business aspects such as business viability and technical feasibility.

Instead of presuming what users want, the design thinking process uses research tools, such as observation and in-depth interviews, to get a deep understanding of the problems, emotions and realities of the people that the company is building products and services for. This can help companies avoid costly failures later. If you are interested, you can find out more about how design can be used for business here.

How is Design Thinking different compared to business strategic consulting?

(Response from McKinsey Design) Design thinking can be a powerful form of problem solving and discovery alongside the traditional management consulting advisory and capability-building practices. More importantly, it is a mindset about being very customer-centric in the way things are done. Design is about going back to first principles in the business, i.e. about the customer or user, and understanding what they need. Once you build up evidence of customer or user needs, it will become compelling in a business environment to continue to solve for the customers. Even if companies don’t explicitly use the words “design thinking”, the notion of being focused on what customers is common when addressing business problems. This is what is driving decisions in top performing companies now.

How could companies convince management that design is crucial to improving the business, especially if they only view design as aesthetics?

  • Design goes beyond aesthetics and is about how organisations behave in terms of being customer-centric and iterative. Sharing case studies of companies that have used design to drive better business performance, such as Dairy Farm Group or Meyer Lifts, can help illustrate the tangible results of design in business. Companies can also check out our resources on Dsg’s website, including a 101 on using design for business.
  • There have also been several studies measuring the impact of design, including McKinsey’s Business Value of Design study, and the Design Management Institute (DMI)’s study.
  • Companies can also start with smaller initiatives to establish quick wins on the value of design. Dsg’s Design for Business suite of programmes, including the BVoD programme, are great introductions for organisations just starting out with design.

For organisations looking to upskill design for internal staff or management, what options are available?

  • There are various training options available depending on the company’s appetite. For an introduction to how design thinking can be applied to businesses, companies could arrange for a design thinking 101 by a design consultancy or a training provider. Companies can contact Dsg directly for such link ups.
  • Companies who are interested to build up more capabilities could consider training programmes from relevant learning institutes. One way to get started could be for companies to check out the SkillsFramework for Design and understand their gaps.
  • Companies can also feel free to reach out to Dsg directly for specific recommendations based on their needs at innovation@designsingapore.org.

Questions on McKinsey’s Business Value of Design research and methodologies

Why has Dsg chosen to partner with McKinsey and not other design firms?

Dsg had studied various innovation measurement tools to identify one that would help Singapore companies benchmark their design performance, and link design performance to financial performance. Dsg partnered with McKinsey Design because of their data-driven approach to design and their deep consulting experience across industries. Their extensive business value of design study conducted across 300 companies over a five-year period has shown a strong correlation between design and improved business performance, and quantified the potential business value at stake.

There are a few other design-centric programmes available geared towards helping Singapore businesses. How is the BVoD programme differentiated from these other options?

(Response from McKinsey Design) The BVoD programme is built on McKinsey’s Business Value of Design study, which is one of the first studies to quantify the business benefits from improved design. This methodology helps companies go beyond financial data and examine behaviours that drive stronger business performance. One key takeaway of this approach is that design is not just about developing a product or service – it’s also about the capabilities, mindsets, and behaviours that allow organizations to launch successful products again and again.

Dsg also has other programmes under its Design for Business initiative, which has different programmes that can be selected based on the company’s needs and stage in their design journey. For example, the BVoD programme is one of our introductory programmes to help companies understand and assess their design capabilities, while our other programmes such as User Journey Mapping and Frame and Scope and help companies define and prioritize key opportunities, and at times to prototype potential solutions.

How does the methodology in McKinsey’s research make the BVoD programme suitable for SMEs?

The core design behaviours that the MDI measures are relevant regardless of company type, industry or size. It asks questions about companies’ current practices in terms of user-centric metrics, continuous iteration to develop products or services, whether there is holistic user experience and whether teams can work seamlessly across one another. These concepts are not dependent on company size.

Alongside companies like SaladStop!, there are also examples of SMEs that have successfully applied such design behaviours in their business practices. Some examples can include Meyer Lifts, who worked with a design consultancy to evolve its business from being a lift sub-contractor for public flats to being a service-driven brand specialising in customised and high-end elevator systems. This included having a customer-centred design approach by developing a service blueprint, and this change led to a 50 percent lift in revenue within six months.


Questions on the BVoD programme specifics

What type of company would the BVoD programme be suited for and for what purposes?

The BVoD programme is open to all businesses, regardless of size or industry, and aims to help companies build key behaviours needed to drive innovation and unlock greater business value. It looks into a company’s practices in terms of its focus on customer experience, continuous iterations in developing products or services, and whether the company’s teams are cross-functional and collaborative. If a company is currently facing a strong impetus for change, whether it is to improve its core business, diversify into new markets, or undergo digital transformation, this programme is relevant.

What might be some of the benefits companies can expect by investing time and energy in this initiative with this short engagement?    

After companies have taken the free MDI assessment in the Assess & Reflect phase, they will have a bearing on areas of strengths and weaknesses relative to high-performing companies that have harnessed the power of design. At the second Aspire & Act phase, McKinsey Design grounds the learning on your biggest business opportunities, and reframes how companies can approach them given the clarify on areas of design strengths and weaknesses.

Does the "Action Plan" in the Aspire & Act phase mean improving the company’s design thinking capability?           

The "Action Plan" in the Aspire & Act phase is where companies will work one of their key business challenges, such as developing a new store experience. Through close consultations with McKinsey Design experts, the action plan will be tailored to companies’ business challenges and will outline key actions to improve in areas based on learnings from the initial Assess & Reflect phase, such as customer-centricity.

Is the programme in a group or bespoke?

  • The programme is a mix of group forums and 1-to-1 bespoke sessions.
  • The group sessions include the BVoD Forum, a group Aspirations Exercise webinar and the Next Steps Forum.
  • The bespoke experience for companies will come in during the Aspirations Exercise of the Aspire & Act phase, where McKinsey can provide feedback to companies on a 1-to-1 basis.

What methodologies will companies learn or use from the BVoD programme to deep dive into the needs of customers, e.g. quantitative data or other methods?

Companies will primarily learn about the key design actions that are most strongly correlated to improved business performance, as demonstrated in McKinsey’s Business Value of Design research. These are:

  • Analytical Leadership – measure and drive design performance with the same rigor as revenue and costs. Areas such as quantitative metrics of how solutions are ideated, built, launched and iterated, can be covered in the area of Analytical Leadership.
  • Cross-Functional Talent – Make User-centric design everyone’s responsibility, and not just a siloed function.
  • Continuous Iteration – De-risk development by continuously listening, testing and iterating with end-users
  • User Experience – Break down internal walls between digital, physical and service design.

How do companies qualify for the Aspire and Act part of the BVoD programme?

After companies complete the Assess & Reflect stage of the programme, they will be asked to complete a short application for Aspire & Act which asks them about their potential business challenge they want to address in the Aspire & Act phase, and the resources they are able to commit to the activities of the Aspire & Act phase.

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