Design to Grow: A book review by Bob Morris

Design to GrowDesign to Grow: How Coca-Cola Learned to Combine Scale and Agility (and How You Can Too)
David Butler and Linda Tischler
Simon & Schuster (2015)

How the design by purpose process can create value while driving both scale and agility

What is “design on purpose”? According to David Butler and Linda Tischler in one of several summaries of key points (Pages 209-211), design on purpose involves five separate but interdependent initiatives:

1. Connect everything you design to your brands. Firms such as Apple (“think different”), Nike (“”personal empowerment”), and BMW (“the ultimate driving machine”), clarify the brand idea/proposition for each brand, in plain speak, and use it to drive their design process in their briefs, concepts, and executions. So must you, also.

2. Clearly define visual identity systems for your brands and use them to connect all of your communication tools. “To get the most impact and scale, we should clearly define the visual identity system (brand or promotion look and feel) at the strategy stage and then use it to connect all of our communication tools together to create a total brand experience.”

3. Create design management tools and guiding principles to ensure a high level of quality across your system. “We need to create clarity for our brands by creating tools that make good decisions easy and bad decisions difficult.”

4. Use design to build more consistency between activation programs, licensing, and promotions (both locally and globally). “We can get much more efficiency and create more impact by thinking more holistically about design. The good news is that sometimes we are very strategic with our design. The bad news is that often it is almost by chance and never connected to anything else.”

5. Link your existing, regional design teams with corporate to achieve better follow-through. “If we linked our design teams together to create a design network, we could leverage our agencies, assets and knowledge much more efficiently and consistently…We could and should be the company that other companies use as their standard for great design. We need to design on purpose.”

Many (most?) business leaders seldom think about linking purpose (the real meaning behind everything that an organization does) with design. Almost 20 years ago in The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge observed, “Systems thinking is a discipline for seeing wholes. It is a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than static snapshots.” Most organizations need to redesign how they are designed. Stated another way, their leaders must think differently about how they think.

The design with purpose process really can create substantial value when scale and agility are combined. This is precisely the “secret sauce” of almost any high-growth, high-profit organization. Consider these observations by Butler and Tischman:

“If you’re a big, established company [such as Coca-Cola], you’ve got scale, which enables you to expand almost effortlessly from Boston to Bangalore. Over time, you’ve built up powerful assets — expertise, brands, customers, distribution, channels, relationships — that most startups could only dream about. Scale is not your problem. Your problem is agility — you must be smarter, faster, leaner than the startup that’s got your industry in its crosshairs — targeted for disruption…If you’re a startup, you’ve got a different problem. You’ve got agility, nothing but agility. Trying new business models, repositioning your company, developing new features, or even whole new products within days — things big companies can only dream about — are not your problem.

“For you, building the right team, deciding which metrics matter, acquiring customers, and securing funding are what keep you up at night. Scale is your problem — doing what it takes to expand your startup into new geographies, including the land of profitability, is your challenge. That’s why most startups fail — only a dispiriting one out of ten succeeds.”

These are among the dozens of passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Butler and Tischler’s coverage:

o Scale and Agility, Coca Cola and Design, and The Invisible Drives the Visible (Pages 2-8)
o Redesigning Design (12-13)
o What Is Design? (16-24)
o Systems and Design (24-27)
o Simplify, Standardize, and Integrate (43-51)
o Context Is Everything (63-65)
o Sometimes, More Is More (67-72)
o Everyone Needs Agility (72-86)
o The Upstarts Called Startups (95-98)
o Fourth Era of Innovation (99-100)
o Disrupt or Be Disrupted (104-107)
o Shark-Bite Problems (124-125)
o Built for Speed (135-138)
o Learning by Doing (143-144)
o Leaner (159-164)
o Catching the Net Wave (188-194)

Whatever an organization’s size and nature may be, its leaders need to use the principles, techniques, and resources of design thinking to combine both scale and agility, at all levels and in all areas, throughout the given enterprise. How? Just about everything they need to know is provided by David Butler and Linda Tischler in this book.

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