By: Nitin Virkar
The concept of ‘Design’, as commonly understood by the general masses focuses on styling and appearance of a product, rather than its actual functionality. This is far removed from the fact that giant strides have been made in the domain of design by integrating design processes with a variety of business functions, in turn aiding business growth. So, how exactly does Design come to help businesses? The Boeing 787 Dreamliner story makes a great case study!
In the first decade of the millennium, an almost loss-making Boeing identified myriad customer and consumer pain points associated with long-haul travel. On the one hand Boeing’s customers were airline carriers who were looking to optimize fuel efficiency and control costs. The consumers that is the flyers suffered from the turmoil of jet lag, headaches, dry mouth and the general misery of the long-haul flight.
Going back to their drawing boards, Boeing built 50% of the Dreamliner’s fuselage from lightweight composite materials, helping shave 20% off fuel consumption. The team realized that an adjustment in cabin pressure and humidity had the potential to imitate on-ground living conditions. In-flight light conditions were designed to reflect changing time zones. The 787 was also designed to be 60% quieter than similar planes.
In effect, they addressed the pain points of two sets of target audiences their direct customers and the flyers. This was made possible by the manufacturing team and the business team working as a whole, using the latest technology and implementing what we call a Design Thinking Process. The result was for all to see — in less than 6 months, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner became the fastest selling commercial jet and was mentioned as one of the 50 most innovative companies by Fast Company.
Boeing’s story is an example of how good design ceases to merely be a catchphrase and transforms into a way of thinking or a process that becomes integral to manufacturing and business growth. The same design process and thinking can be scaled up, to work for a large conglomerate, or scaled down to benefit small-scale manufacturers. This insight is especially relevant in the Indian context, where manufacturing ought to play an important role in generating jobs and bringing about inclusive economic growth.
Why is Product Design Relevant to India?
India’s economic growth story is closely linked to the rise of its manufacturing industry. According to a report by KPMG, India’s GDP is likely to be a USD 5 trillion economy by 2025, implying a market share of well over USD 1.2 trillion for the manufacturing sector; more than double of what has been forecast for January 2020. A sizable share of this growth will likely come from many of India’s small and medium-scale manufacturing industries strewn across the country and also creating numerous job opportunities along the way.
It is an irony that despite the immense potential for the domestic manufacturing market, the general quality of products in our markets is often perceived to be below the standards that we wish to experience. It is hence imperative that the quality of manufacturing improves so that it can eventually tie into India’s economic growth story.
In order to achieve this growth, it is also important to consider how we can improve our percentage of exports. In fact exports may need to initially surpass domestic sales/turnover so as to initiate economic and financial growth. In order to facilitate exports, we will need a catalyst in growth. Design has time and again proven to be that catalyst, it can greatly improve the functionality of products, improve the quality of manufacturing, help run businesses more efficiently and generate better value for what we manufacture.
Design as a Growth Catalyst of the Manufacturing Sector
A Design Process begins with careful observation of the status of things, with an eye on where we want to be. It is necessary to look into the elements that are currently worrisome and can be fixed in a relatively short duration, with minimal inputs (with reference to investment and resources). A well-designed product ensures that there are a time, place and the right way to make and use it.
To establish the relevance of design, The Design Council, an organisation in the UK, studied 63 companies that were listed on the stock exchange, in 2005. They discovered that the companies that invested in design or followed design-led processes and operations earned 200% more in profits than the ones that did not.
The relevance of products in the present and changes that would be required to keep it relevant in the future can be ascertained by a continued study and engagement with the consumer. Design, therefore is a faculty that creates that bridge between the manufacturer and the consumer.
Good design also takes into account how the process of making the product can be optimized, and how the other business functions such as marketing, purchase and finance could fit together more integrally. Studies by observers in the last decade have demonstrated that the obvious gap between the success of manufacturing companies in Japan and those in the US can be attributed to ‘integration’ or the lack of it, between product design and other allied business functions.
The calculated changes in how a product’s parts come together while manufacturing it and how they come apart while servicing it, will go a long way in minimising efforts and overheads during the manufacturing process and post-purchase service.
Design might just be that tool, which will determine whether India’s growth story will hobble along or swiftly gallop towards the USD 5 trillion marks for our economy. It may be the key element between the fruitfulness of our industry and the aspirations of our people.