Putting DESIGN into R&D

R&D exists in every business from micro to the global corporate. The cafe owner designs the layout to get the maximum number of tables and chairs, the manufacturer develops new products and processes, the retailer develops seasonal products and the insurer develops 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 & Development (RD & D) 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 R, D & D 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 of 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 your client’s R&D department in your pitch.

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


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.

Want more information like this delivered to your inbox every Wednesday?
The Design Business Review is Australia’s only online design management magazine. It’s professional development information written specifically for Australian designers by Australian designers. Best of all, it’s free.

Thank you! Your subscription has been confirmed. You'll hear from us soon.