Design for businesses

Design has an impact on the way your products, packaging, marketing and web presence look and work. It also affects how your customers use and value your products and services, how your workplace is set up and run and the efficiency of processes.


7 min read

1. Overview

It is worth considering how design can help in every area of your business.

Design allows you to develop and sell products and services without having to compete purely on cost. Design also allows you to create niche products and develop strong relationships with your customers so you can meet or exceed their expectations.

This guide is for new businesses as well as those developing new products or services or entering new markets. It outlines how to identify and evaluate the place of design in your business, learn about design methods, access professional help and develop an understanding of more detailed design considerations.

2. Design disciplines

Product designers will develop concepts using computer aided design and then test their concepts with customers and manufacturers using rough models before producing detailed prototypes that you can cost and evaluate.

Strong packaging design is very important when selling your product.

Brand designers can help you create a consistent image across all aspects of your business, which highlights what makes your products and services attractive and distinctive.

Graphic design communicates ideas and information through visual methods, such as in your business' marketing and sales material, signage, logos, reports, websites and stationery. It is a key aspect of brand design.

Service designers can help you plan and organise the people, infrastructure, communications and materials that make up the service you deliver.

Workplace design is an important consideration to any business employing staff because the space in which they work can have a direct impact on your staff's productivity and creativity. Also, if your workplace is regularly visited by your clients, it can affect how your company is perceived.

Ecodesign - or 'green design' - is a process where raw materials, manufacture, distribution and end use of products are all considered within the overall design. You can apply eco-design to both existing and new products. This will help you with:

  • reducing use of raw materials, energy and water
  • eliminating hazardous materials
  • producing less pollution and waste
  • increasing service life and efficiency in use
  • ensuring greater potential for reuse and recycling

3. Brand design

Good brand design is a way of associating a clear, consistent set of values with your products and services. This is a good way of attracting new customers and making sure that existing customers and contacts remember your business.

Creating good branding

Your brand should be:

  • simple, memorable, consistent
  • relevant to your customers and their needs - so aim to create associations that are appropriate to your product or service, whether this is aspirational, reliable etc
  • reinforced whenever possible on all communications, marketing, websites, business and sales environments
  • current and fresh - so make changes when necessary, although this won't usually involve reinventing the brand unless your business changes radically
  • effective in all media - from print to website or TV advertising

Decide how much of the brand design you can do yourself and what you will employ a designer for. Either way, it's a good idea to involve employees. They know your products or services well and are likely to be familiar with your customers. They may have ideas, and they also need to be comfortable with the brand.

Read more about branding in our guide Branding: the basics.

4. Working with designers

If you decide you want to use a professional designer or consultant, it is important to make the right choice and to include them in your project from the earliest stage.

How a designer can help you

A designer can offer you a range of useful skills and knowledge. For example, they can:

  • be specialists in an area such as website design, marketing or product research
  • be a consultant with an overview of your business sector or market
  • maximise your team's potential to use good
  • free your time to work on other aspects of your business
  • provide an outsider's overview - you may be too close to see the best way forward

Finding the right designer

You can find designers from a variety of sources, including:

  • word of mouth
  • case studies of projects you find inspirational. The Design Council has filmed interviews and written case studies of more than 50 businesses that have worked with designers to improve their business.
  • searchable directories

Once you have shortlisted possible designers it is not good practice to ask them to make a creative pitch based on a brief you have given them. Instead, ask them for a summary of their credentials and to explain briefly how they would approach your project. You may want to commission your favourite agencies to do some preliminary creative work for a fee. You can evaluate that before selecting your final agency.

When making your final choice, consider the designers':

  • track record
  • evidence of success in solving business problems
  • personality and ethos - you need to develop a good working relationship with them

Once you have chosen the design agency you want to commission, then you need to work together to write a design brief. The brief should cover your project's key objectives and your business' strategic goals.

5. Creating a design team

Whether you are doing the design work within your business or employing an external design agency, you will need to set up a team which includes:

  • a project manager with responsibility and authority for design-related decisions
  • all relevant employees - such as sales, technical, marketing and research staff
  • selected key customers and suppliers

The design team will need the right resources and conditions to work successfully. These include:

  • time, resources and funding to do the job
  • encouragement for people to be creative, with only essential restrictions
  • a good brief
  • regular reviews and updates so that time, effort and money are not wasted
  • good project management
  • clear agreements from the start about issues relating to intellectual property and any relevant regulations

6. Design for particular products and markets

Design for technology businesses

Small and medium-sized businesses in the UK technology sector can use design to improve their products' commercial viability.

Technology businesses need to turn their technological innovations into commercial applications. The use of design principles can help small businesses to make sure that their new products are user-friendly and commercially viable. A number of organisations support the use of design methods in small and medium technology businesses. They include:

Design for export businesses

Design can help your business attract customers in the export market. Because customers in different countries may have different needs and expectations, you may need to adapt the design of existing products, packaging or marketing materials if you want to sell your products overseas.

You will also need to take account of different regulations in other countries when you are designing or redesigning products and services for export. It's important to protect your designs overseas so that your intellectual property is safeguarded.

Scottish Development International offer free advice and support to help you make the most of international business opportunities.

The Scottish Enterprise website has information on doing business outside Scotland.

Design for service businesses

Service design can help make sure your public or consumer services are useful, efficient, effective and desirable. It uses design techniques like client research, collaborative ideas generation and early stage prototyping and testing to deliver services that meet customers' needs, are cost conscious and capable of meeting future as well as present needs.

7. Protecting your design

Any original design your business creates is your intellectual property (IP). Intellectual property is your asset - you can sell it, licence it and use it to increase your revenue or as security. It sets you apart from competition and embodies your unique selling points and marketing potential.

Design right and registration

Design right is an automatic right which allows you to protect your designs in the UK and prevent others from copying or misusing them.

If you register a design, you may be able to strengthen and extend protection to other countries of any design right or copyright protection that may exist automatically.

Avoid infringing the IP of others

As well as protecting your own design IP, you must make sure you are not infringing the IP of others. If you do, the IP owner can take legal action against you. So it's a good idea to carry out searches to check that someone else hasn't already come up with the same idea as you. For example, if you're planning to use a sign, carry out a full trade mark search.

There is more information on intellectual property in our guide Intellectual property: the basics.

Read our guide on User-centred design.

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