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Improving Malta by design

For some, design might mean the superficial polish of nicer homes and cleaner graphics. However, despite often being underestimated, design can bring significant benefits and solutions to businesses. Perhaps more importantly, it opens up the doors for valuable opportunities when ideas are turned into innovative, competitive products and services. In today’s world, it is no secret that competition has become fiercer, thus a solid reason to encourage businesses to continue to innovate.

It is not difficult to see the connection between design and business. Consider the latest technology or luxury car models and it is easy to understand just how design fuels consumer yearning.

By the same token, it is safe to say that good design is an investment that breathes quality assurance and is also very profitable.

According to a recent design-related online survey conducted by Esprimi and presented by Business Leaders Malta, local businesses seem to be on the right track and have the right attitude that enables them to innovate further. The study was carried out among local employers and entrepreneurs in order to gain a greater appreciation for the way in which businesses tend to portray or regard the terms ‘innovation’ and ‘design’.

Statistics show that innovation, technology and competitive advantage are the three terms mostly associated with design. They also revealed that companies employing between five to nine employees associated design with competitive advantage, to the same extent as they did with innovation. In addition, companies employing between 10 and 250 individuals, associated design primarily with innovation, followed by the development of client oriented goods and services. The results reflect a good step in the right direction, perception and attitude.

There is an undeniable congruity between design and innovation, two crucial elements to be able to rise up to today’s cut-throat competition challenges. In the manufacturing base for instance, design is indispensable as it creates value to products, and differentiates them to others. Anybody can replicate another product but replicating unique design that is ingrained in a product is a different story.

Despite its indispensable, yet somewhat un-capitalised, potential to translate ideas into commercial streams, design is often assigned an inferior role. The European Union sees the potential for economic growth by design and is now taking on a number of initiatives to promote its importance within businesses. Perhaps design is most critical in the early start-up and consolidation stages of a business lifecycle as it largely determines just how investable it is in the eyes of venture capitalists and of course the impact it has on the collective buying power.

Companies that wish to expand might not only wish to do so locally but also overseas. One factor that remains a constant in doing so is design – without it, companies would be unable to create an international demand, thus design together with technology is critical and vital for exporting.

What we want to see in Malta is more and more companies moving up the design ladder – a concept developed by the Danish Design Centre which primarily comprises four stages. In the first stage, design plays no role in the product or service development. In stage two, design is only relevant in terms of style, in stage three, design becomes integral to the development process whereas in the final stage, design is a key, strategic means of encouraging innovation.

The Malta Business Bureau’s objective is to act as a facilitator for companies to move up the design ladder. In the words of design guru Jon Kolko, “when you view design as a strategic competency, it transcends surface beauty or form. It becomes a way of thinking about problems and a way of working through complexity and ambiguity in order to make our work more engaging”.

Following its appointment as ambassador for the European Commission’s Design for Europe Programme in Malta, the MBB has undertaken a design initiative that has thus far transpired in a well-received kick-off event, Innovation through Design, earlier this month.

The MBB design-related objectives in 2016 are to facilitate and assist local businesses to take design-led innovation a step further, by means of organising capacity building workshops and training support with the support of the Design Council UK who are leading the European Programme.

president@mbb.org.mt

Mario Spiteri is the president of the Malta Business Bureau.

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