a fine line: A book review by Bob Morris

a fine linea fine line: how design strategies are shaping the future of business
Hartmut Esslinger
Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint (2009)

Throughout the years since Hartmut Esslinger founded frog design (one of the world’s leading strategic design firms), having learned firsthand how truly great business leaders partner with designers, he has developed what he characterizes as a “step-by-step innovation process that leverages the power of that partnership. That process is at the heart of the collaborative model of innovation-driven business design that I’ve outlined in this book.”

First, Esslinger examines “the role of design in the rapidly developing creative economy and how savvy business leaders cultivate a culture of innovation within their organizations.” Next, Esslinger “walks” his reader through a step-by-step view of the innovation process, “from targeting goals to successfully shepherding innovations to market,” and then takes an “in-depth look at the tools of innovation and the sometimes counterintuitive process of following a highly technical path to arrive at an intensely human experience.” Then in the book’s final chapters, Esslinger takes “a long look” at the future of manufacturing and how business can transform the “cheap, cheaper, toxic” model of production outsourcing “into one of mutually beneficial and economic collaboration.”

I wholly agree with Esslinger that creativity is the new major driver and a multi-million dollar segment of the new economic order. Also, that “design is the means by which companies can apply creativity strategically to their business purpose.” I also agree that only business strategies based on creativity, insight, and cultural awareness can produce benefits that result in “human- adaptive solutions and not in commodity like products for which nobody is willing to pay full price – especially when the offerings outnumber the buyer…Only strategies that explore and take risks – those that are willing to surprise and inspire on the human scale – can hope to win in our evolving economy.”

It is imperative that designers understand the business context within which every organization struggles to compete successfully; it is imperative, meanwhile, that executives understand the role that designers must play “in the process of infusing any business with the energy of design-driven innovation.” Esslinger draws upon a wealth of real-world experience when suggesting how creative minds and business minds can collaborate effectively, how both sides of what he characterizes as a “business-design partnership” can process within the process they share.

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