Designers looking down, working on R&DPutting design into research and design

Budgets are tight. Clients are demanding more from their money and scope creep is a common challenge.

But there’s one area where money is still allocated – Research and Design (R&D). R&D exists in every business from the micro to the global corporate. Cafe owners design the floor to get the maximum number of tables and chairs, manufacturers develop new products and processes, retailers develop seasonal products and insurers develop new insurance products and services.

All are ‘doing’ R&D.

R&D is an untapped market for designers. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports expenditure on R&D in 2018 by Australian businesses was $17.4 billion. The Committee for Sydney claims this should be increased by $10.7 billion.

EY analysis undertaken for the Committee for Sydney found that a single year of spending $10.7 billion would deliver $6 billion in immediate economic stimulus through spending in the R&D sector, and then deliver $4 billion in productivity improvements every year thereafter, while creating 22,000 jobs.

Research design and development

In the Design Business Council Design Maturity research we added Research, Design and Development to the nine activities identified in Michael C. Porters’ Value Chain to present the Design Value Chain. We found those who scored highly had a higher level of design integration.

R&D cannot exist without design.

The purpose of R&D is to improve existing products, processes and services or to develop new products, processes and services. This can’t be done without innovation and that can’t happen without design.

In our Design Value Chain research, design and development is interconnected with

  • Corporate Infrastructure,
  • Marketing,
  • Operations and
  • Service.

A good R&D activity unites these areas through the process of design thinking; the aim is to build a design-centric culture that radiates from R&D.

What is a design-centric culture?

A design centered organisation starts with a human problem, then seeks to solve it as purely as possible. Rather than simply responding to trends or the current marketplace, a design organisation creates value by truly improving the art of everyday living.
Ben Watson, Executive Creative Director at Herman Miller

There are four ways to make R&D design centric:

Focus on users’ emotional experiences

Designers can help the organisation build empathy with users. Using an empathy map, a designer shows employees how to observe behavior and draw conclusions about how people feel, see and hear about a product, process or service. This type of information can’t come from just collecting data.

Create artifacts to understand complex problems

Designers are increasingly using design thinking to understand complex, intangible issues, such as how a service or process is experienced by a customer. Design thinkers are using physical models to explore complex issues, define the scope, and communicate a solution. These models include Customers Journey Maps, Service Blueprints and design sprints to supplement and in some cases replace spreadsheets and data.

Designers can turn raw information into visual stories that make the complex understandable

Develop prototypes

Designers have an ability to analyse the results from the previous process(es) and develop visual prototypes to test the solutions. And designers have an ability to see disparate objects and unite them to form a meaningful prototype.

Be prepared to fail

The design process equips designers with the willingness to fail, pivot, redesign, test and implement.


Include the R&D department of your client in your new business strategy.

Find out who handles R&D and pitch them your skills to focus on users’ emotional experience, create artefacts to understand complex problems and develop prototypes. Be prepared to fail and bounce back.

Turn Research and Development into Research, Design and Development.


Contact Greg if you would like to learn more about using the design value chain to create competitive advantage for your clients

Greg Branson

Want more?

Here’s more information on design maturity:

  1. Walk a day in your clients shoes – empathy mapping
  2. Understanding a client to develop new business
  3. How design mature are your clients.

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