By Guy Stewart
As an organisation we at Skope are very good at the engineering element of what we do.
By very I mean we are world leaders in the application of what we perceive are the core engineering drivers of our core target market, and its primary participants.
These typically focus around the environmental impact of our commercial refrigeration products (for example changing refrigerant gases, blowing agents, increasing energy efficiency) or client benefits derived from specification enhancement (for example using safer glass products or greater corrosion resistance) and we are considered to be at the leading edge of our product categories by the industry leaders.
Having said that receive no premium for this leadership.
Our weakness is our lack of understanding of design as a complete concept and its broad impact across a manufacturing organisation like ours in the context of how our market perceives the value of engineering over design. In essence our clients expect us to lead them with our leadership in engineering, but do not value this leadership financially as physically they perceive our products to be very similar to our competition.
I am lucky in that I have a sister that has recently completed her Masters in Design focusing on Product Design Management and joined our company. Her passion for the need for design in an organisation and her persistence in getting me as the Managing Director to understand the core benefits of design as a competitive advantage and cultural imperative has been critical to our company’s adoption of the idea of design.
I say idea, because design is a vague concept for someone like me that doesn’t understand it. Much like marketing or human resources, design is important apparently. I do not mean to make light of the concept of marketing, human resources or design as they are very important to any business environment, but unless you clearly understand these concepts, they are difficult to conceptualise and justify from an investment perspective as they are soft business tools with primarily qualitative feedback in the short and medium terms of their implementation. Obviously in the long term the patience and diligence given in supporting these business disciplines will pay dividends if implemented properly.
My sister, Alexandra Stewart, pushed the concept of design into our company initially by lobbying myself first and then, with my support, presenting a formal plan to the Board that centred, in the initial stages, around having a formal independent design audit, which we did using Better By Designs design audit facility (an NZTE initiative).
Following the audit we were presented with a list of recommendations that our company considered adopting to increase it consciousness of design. We have adopted most of the recommendations given to us.
The implementation of design, in our experience, has been a clumsy process, and it is not over yet.
This is mainly due to the emotional switching costs of an organisation that has built itself on having a world beating excellence in engineering solutions for the core markets it targets. Change is a complex challenge, and what we are experiencing is no different, but we have completed a project that has shown the success of integrating industrial design in a project that has been well received by the market. We also have one project almost completed and we can already see the benefits of a broader design solution that still incorporates our engineering excellence. Our first fully integrated design focused project is looking successful and our second looks to solidify the benefits of design in our company for good, while changing it’s target market forever.
As the Managing Director I am not much closer to understanding the specifics and detail of design as a discipline, but I can see the benefits that it can bring to an organisation both culturally and financially, which is echoed in my increasing the resource and training our Design and Innovation team have to ensure that they are able to meet their goals, to ensure that the company meets its goals.