A mentoring program backed by the Victorian Government has brought design to the core of business practice in the small-to-medium enterprise (SME) sector.
Design 2 Business (D2B) is a revolutionary pathway for Victorian SMEs that are looking for consistent, sustained growth – an education in design-led thinking that aims to rebuild a company from the ground up with a single holistic vision: to be the best in their field. From marketing to product design, business strategy to organisational culture, D2B helps businesses to see and shape their whole picture, according to one purpose.
"I've been around the traps both at home and overseas and this program is the best program I have ever seen that has anything to do with design to help business. From a personal standpoint, it's the nicest piece of work I've ever done in my career," says Roger Simpson.
Simpson is one of five consultants in the Equip Design Integration Group, which delivers the D2B program on behalf of the Government. A former National President of the Design Institute of Australia and Professor of Design at Swinburne University, Simpson founded a design consultancy in 1975 that expanded into 12 offices in the Asia Pacific region. His partners include Ray Labone, a brand identity specialist, Peter Hawthornthwaite, an industrial design specialist, and Andrew Jones and Andrew Murrowood, both specialists in business strategy and growth. Together, the Equip team represents 185 years in accumulated design and business experience.
Modelled on New Zealand's 'Better By Design' program and implemented over an intensive 12-month period, D2B requires a huge transformational change from its participants.
"The companies that have been through the program have learned that they need to take a holistic view about how design can help them to deliver products or services that are best in their category in the world," Roger explains. "They're often aiming to be competitive and they have elements of this holistic thinking in place but they don't have it aligned right across the company, so you might have excellent products but a poor brand or no brand story; you might have excellent marketing but you've got no business strategy; you might have a company that's only looking at the Australian market place and isn't looking at the global market place – even if these companies are not going to export, they've got to be able to compete with imported products and services."
More than 45 Victorian SMEs have embarked on the D2B program, beginning with a four-day top-to-toe audit of their company. Looking at organisational culture, business strategy, product and process, brand and marketing, the audit identifies key issues and opportunities for the business and develops a specific plan of action. Over the next few weeks, the D2B team delivers four intensive mentoring sessions exploring how to benchmark, how to build insights and empathy with the end user, how to better manage product development and how to align your business into clear vision, values and purpose. In the remaining stretch of months, the D2B mentors deliver another intensive 10 modules, based on the specific needs and demands of the company.
Though the D2B program was first implemented in Victoria in 2012, the graduates have already reported significant success. In initial evaluations, one third of business owners and managers have observed improved business outcomes, with action plans generating at least $7 million in additional income, including $0.6 million in increased exports and $2.2 million in increased interstate sales. D2B graduates have also employed over 20 additional staff.
In addition, 90% of all participating businesses expect to see significant improved outcomes by 2018, including collectively a minimum 20% ($121 million) increase in annual turnovers, with exports expected to increase by at least $10 million (34%) and interstate sales expected to increase by at least $48 million (18%), bringing more than 300 new full time roles to the Victorian workforce.
We wish the companies to grow, that growth needs to be sustainable – they need to have a catalytic change that allows they to continue to grow and develop over time," says Simpson. "Our world is going through the most rapid period of change that anyone alive has been subject too, and it just keeps accelerating and keeps accelerating. These companies can now address this as an opportunity and get on with things…we love working with these brave SMEs."
Watch an interview with D2B graduate company Branach