One of the most acknowledged (and so far unquestioned) theories of business is that competition is based on distinctive capabilities:
something that one organization has and others haven't. For years this
theory has been the basis for contending the value of design for
business: design makes a difference. And this approach of justifying
the value of design because of differentiation has succeeded indeed.
The number of companies investing on design is soaring.
Good news? Definitely. Surely for students and professionals, with an increasing demand for design skills and services. But unfortunately there is a downside: as an asset diffuses to every company, it inevitably loses its differential power. It becomes mandatory, not distinctive. It happened 20 years ago with Total Quality Management. In the late '80s firms considered quality as a top priority; the best quality performers were succeeding, and other companies started to invest in quality improvements with similar models and approaches: each adopted the principles of Total Quality Management, each had a manager responsible for Quality, each adopted six sigma or control charts. Two decades later quality is not among the top corporate priorities anymore. It is mandatory of course, and there are still quality managers in each firm, but quality is not considered a strategic differentiator. Is design bound to a similar destiny in business: to be mandatory, but not strategic?
I know this claim could sound awkward and outlandish to many. No one would nowadays dare to claim that design is marginal for business and competition. But as all companies around the globe are investing in design, and as all are investing in a similar way (all adopting user centered processes and techniques such as ethnographic analysis, brainstorming, rapid experimentation cycles) design in the next future is at risk to be perceived by managers as something necessary, but not differential. Design researchers, who have the attitude and the duty to look forward, have something to think and worry about. What's next?
The rationale of the CtC conference comes from observation of the challenges that are faced by society and its implications for design researchers. Our discussion above points out that there is an additional reason for changing the way we have been thinking about design. A reason that is pragmatically rooted in the dynamics of competition and of strategy. Also businesses will be shortly looking for a radical change in their processes of change. Design needs to propose a new paradigm if it wants to stay high in the agenda.