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Ten design commandments for great business design

By mark lancelott, PA business design expert

For some years I’ve been interested in what it means to be a designer of businesses, of organisations and operating models, and have looked for insights from the broader fields of design and architecture. If you follow this path, you quickly come across Dieter Rams, an important German industrial designer who began his career in the 1950s, and remains a key influence in product design and design theory.

Minimalist and functionalist, Rams’ design philosophy was ‘less, but better’. He designed many of Braun’s leading electronic products in the 1950s and 1960s, as well as award winning furniture. More recently he is cited as a major influence on Sir Jony Ive of Apple, probably the world’s most lauded designer of our time.

In the 1970s Rams distilled his design philosophy into 10 principles of good design, also known as his 10 design commandments, which have stood the test of time:

Good design:

  1. should be innovative

  2. makes a product useful

  3. has to be aesthetic

  4. makes a product understandable

  5. is honest

  6. is unobtrusive

  7. is long lasting

  8. is thorough down to the last detail

  9. is environmentally friendly

  10. is as little design as possible.

Over the years I’ve been asked many times by clients what makes great business design, organisation design or operating model design. The answers I’ve given have depended on the particular client situation and the level of insight I’d reached at that point in my ongoing professional development. It wasn’t until recently that I translated Rams’ 10 commandments into the work I do. I found they are as relevant to designing a business as designing a product, and reflected the insights distilled through the work we’ve done at PA since 1943.

Good design Good business design
should be innovative takes advantage of new technology, organisation practices and knowledge
makes a product useful creates useful and valuable outcomes for its customers and stakeholders
has to be aesthetic achieves simplicity, removing unnecessary organisational complexity
makes a product understandable helps leaders, managers and staff understand what’s important, and how their efforts contribute to this
is honest reflects the organisation’s values and culture, and is honest about how these can change if this is required
is unobtrusive creates a work environment where people can contribute their best, removing unnecessary distractions
is long lasting is sufficiently flexible to adapt to potential future scenarios without major redesign
is thorough down to the last detail gives sufficient direction to specify technical systems, whilst not over-designing how people should work
is environmentally friendly focuses resources on the right things: is efficient and effective, and provides meaningful work for people
is as little design as possible represents the best model to execute the strategy, doing no more or less than is needed


I believe design is a critical ingredient in creating organisations that can do great things for customers and society. But it is often not part of the skillset and mindset in organisations. Design is more than analysis and applying best practice. Design is exploratory and requires creativity. In future blogs we’ll share our thoughts on many of these ideas – such as the importance of deep insights into stakeholders needs and how to design for simplicity – as they represent the fundamentals of the business design work we do at PA.

Find out more about our work in business design.

Contact the business design team

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