Designing Ideas

Design is a buzz word that permeates the business and entrepreneurial press. Publications such as the "Harvard Business Review, Inc." and "Fast Times' have devoted entire issues to the topic.

What does design mean to entrepreneurs? Is it just another term for creativity or innovation? Or is there more to it?

The design concept is connected to innovation and creativity, but design means something more. It is a process that depends on innovation and creativity to implement that process.

Design Thinking theory has emerged from the interest in design, suggesting that there is a process for solving problems and discovering new opportunities. The key to this process is observation. Being in the present and looking for opportunities or needs and wants that need to be solved is the driver behind designing new products or processes in business.

An early researcher in the area, Herbert Simon, stated that Design Thinking is different from other types of thinking because it is based on a build up of ideas with no judgments made. This eliminates the fear of failure and encourages maximum input and participation. Wild ideas that often lead to the most creative solutions are sought.

Jen Buchanan designer and owner of Girl's Best Trend in Lakewood said she uses the design process in her store. “When putting my store together, it was like putting a client's living space together.” 

Probably the most common use of the term applies to designing new products. Unique designs can catch the eye of a customer to sell a new product or even create a new trend. The redesign of eyeglasses by Warby Parker - a company started in the Venture Initiation Program of the Wharton School - is an example of succesful design thinking.

Companies like Apple were born out of designs that found new ways to meet consumer needs and wants. How many people 25 years ago thought most people would not be caught leaving home without their cell phones?

It is important for companies to design unique products. Research shows that most successful products and companies are not the low-cost producers, but the high-end companies that differentiated their product by designing something different.

Among other products, Buchanan’s store features handbags she designs herself.  “With my handbag business, I am working with fabrics and keeping up with the trends and classic styles.  So I actually use design with everything I do.”

Industrial design applies a process to create products that are intended to be manufactured. Industrial design is separate from the manufacturing process, creating a product’s form before it is mass produced.  

New business models are also common examples of design. Sleeping in someone else’s bed was not done until Airbnb created a new industry. Sharing rides through Uber has created new ways to get around and income opportunities for those willing to chauffeur others. Fashion design is another example. Consumers are most familiar with fashion as they watch the trend of what people are wearing change...for what they perceive as better or worse.

Designers learn on the fly, identifying weaknesses and making corrections along the way. They are willing to introduce prototypes to the market before making a perfected product. This design approach to business requires a new way of thinking: Instead of acting on what's certain, designers bet on what's probable or possible.

Buchanan added, “I use my creativity to put together eye-catching window displays to advertise and pull people in.  Once in the shop, my customers often are not surprised when I tell them that I am a designer."

Perry Haan

Dr. Perry Haan is Professor of Marketing and Entrepreneurship, and former Dean of the Business School at Tiffin University. He resides in Rocky River and can be reached at 419-618-2867 or

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Volume 3, Issue 10, Posted 3:20 PM, 04.07.2016