Clive Grinyer, Head of Service Design at the Royal College of Art and Chairman of Judges at the 2022 DBA Design Effectiveness Awards, writes about how this year's winners used design as a strategic tool to tackle present and future challenges, delivering growth for businesses as well as helping address societal issues.

As Chair of the DBA Design Effectiveness Awards, I have seen at first-hand how design is a pivotal part of commercial success. Amongst this year’s award winners, there are many inspirational examples of businesses emerging from challenging times with new strategies built on design methods, which are delivering real value and differentiation. The rigorous methodology of the awards in isolating the design component from marketing and advertising or product development, is positive proof of the impact of design and its ability to enhance the value of brands, products and services.

In the case of Grand Prix winner Billson’s, a rediscovery and subsequent renaissance of an almost forgotten Australian soft drinks brand combined heritage and a brilliant design solution to rebuild not just a factory and reestablish a workforce, but to regenerate a whole community.

This is the impact of design; the ripple effect that brings economic benefits to business and society. It can be seen across the winners, which clearly show how the value of design in sustaining and enhancing business endeavour is many times more than the value of the design industry on its own. How many more businesses would have gone bust during the pandemic without the efforts of designers to ensure the competitiveness of their outputs, helping them to differentiate in the market as normality returned?

And design can be just as effective in solving broader societal issues. GlaxoSmithKline’s easy-to-open packaging for joint pain sufferers shows how we can create innovative, inclusive solutions which are accessible to all. While award winners Raw Halo and UpCircle, driven by the desire to create less environmental damage and reduce plastic, have used design across every aspect of their organisations to fulfil their ethical aspirations and grow their brands.

It’s exciting to see how the DBA Design Effectiveness Awards are tracking and measuring the success of design for public services and purpose-led organisations. A fantastic example from this year’s awards saw design transform recruitment to the NHS, where design was the engine of delivery for a strategy to build a skilled workforce ready for new and evolving challenges. We can see too how the creation of Barnardo’s online LifeLabs portal is supporting the disadvantaged in society and how a Ministry of Justice campaign has empowered victims of sexual abuse to come forward and seek help.

There is a trend here. More organisations are seeing design as a strategic tool to help solve the challenges of today and of the future. They are using designers to improve brand identity and business performance, but they are also using design methods to establish their purpose, value and role in answering the challenges of our age. Addressing environmental damage to retain a planet we can live on is an obvious challenge we are facing that is increasingly driven by consumer demand. Rethinking materials and manufacturing processes is the first step, but more and more businesses now have sustainability at the heart of their reason for being. In such companies, design moves from a traditional messaging role to become the driver of behavior change in consumers, from product design to organisational culture design and to a central role in the orchestration of not just touchpoints, but of ecosystems and supply chains.

As the Barnardo’s and Ministry of Justice examples show, design plays a role ensuring an accessible and equitable society. As we balance our new working styles and reflect on our quality of life, design is working across wellbeing and social challenges. It can help people navigate and easily access services, products and public spaces to engage and interact with each other. At its core, design is a listening process. And it’s this process which enables design to understand issues and overcome barriers to deliver innovation, value and impacts that benefit all.

The essence of design is also the visual. But not just for decoration and aesthetic pleasure (famously NOT a criteria for these awards). Seeing, making tangible, interacting and understanding the impact of our ideas allows us to make better decisions. Imagine having a business school teach you a magic process which allows you to model your future business, sharing and engaging with your organisation and future customers in order to learn how the business will work and how to improve it before you invest and deliver. Imagine the reduction of risk and increased business success that would bring. Imagine a policy maker tackling a problem faced by their citizens; understanding it, prototyping an idea to address it, then improving it to ensure real impact. You don’t have to imagine such a process. It exists and it’s called design.

The DBA Design Effectiveness Awards inspire us with living breathing examples of success across all these areas. More than that, they provide a template for how design will play a critical role in resetting and reshaping our businesses and organisations to embrace and engage with the challenges we face. It has never been more important that we design for the future, creating a new generation of inspiring stories which show how we can make a successful, better, fairer world, without damaging it. 

DBA Design Effectiveness Awards

Find all 2022 DBA Design Effectiveness Awards winners here.

The call for entries for the 2023 DBA Design Effectiveness Awards is now underway. The entry deadline is 4 November 2022. Download an entry pack here.