10 principles for forward thinking business

We’re living in a very noisy world. More than ever before, we have more choice than ever before.

Take an everyday decision like where to buy coffee. Ask yourself some questions: How much time do I have? Do I want to take a walk before I get to the cafe? Should I go for an independent or a chain store? Do I want to drink in or ‘take out’? Do I need to use the wi-fi? What kind of atmosphere do I want to drink my drink in? Tall, Grande or Venti? Foam or no foam? Milk or no milk? Card or cash? Pre-order and prepay on my iPhone or have a conversation with barrista?

Before you know it, you’re needing an aspirin for the headache you’ve just caused yourself.

Now take a bigger decision like: which PR company should I employ to market my business to potential clients? Can you imagine the choices that people are going to have to make in order to find your business? Alot!

However, if startups and medium sized businesses take a note out of one product designers book, they’ll save themselves a lot of hassle in the long run.

In the 1980s, a designer and thinker named Dieter Rams devised a set of ten rules that design should follow if it was to be ‘good.’ Although Rams applied the ideas to products, you can apply the same ideas to your business and build for growth and ease!

Good business is innovative

When anybody starts a business, it’s usually because they’re pretty sure they’ve got a good idea which no-one else has. Innovation is where the problems with an old idea are changed to create a whole new idea.

Take t-shirt printing for example. Neil Cocker, a regular contributor to Plastik Magazine, started Dizzyjam to solve the problem that bands were having printing merchandise with their name on it. Neil set up a website which allows artists to upload the graphics they want, position it as they choose and then market the t-shirts to their fans. Never once do the bands pay for stock – they just collect the profit from the sale of the t-shirt.

Dizzyjam didn’t invent the t-shirt printing press – they just combined an existing technology with a problem that an industry was having.

Business will struggle to succeed if the innovation isn’t there. Every business needs to fill a gap in the market or at least squeeze itself in with a different angle. If your business doesn’t currently solve a problem, you’re missing a trick and walking a dangerous tight-rope.

Good business makes a product useful

What is the front facing use of your business? One of the greatest innovations in modern history is the iPod. It revolutionised the way that we listen to music and even the sales of music by allowing people to store thousands of songs at one time.

In fact, it even led to further advances in technology with the famous scroll wheel paving the way for a touch screen iPhone.

The Lomography company is a particularly good example of how to make a business useful. The plastic camera was largely overtaken in popularity by the onset of the digital era – people wanted instant photography and they wanted to be able to see what they were shooting. Lomography came back into fashion by finding a use for an old product – the company made it cool to have ‘happy accidents’ with photography. They emphasised their plus points.

The good news about this particular rule is that it’s never too late to make your business useful – even if it does mean facing up to some harsh truths!

Good business is aesthetic

There’s a psychological benefit in good design for both the user and the supplier. If your business looks good, people are more willing to enjoy using it.

When you’re building your business, this rule doesn’t have to only apply to the logo and colours.

Take local coffee shop Barker Coffee as an example. The menswear store Barker decided that they would open the cafe up last year in the unit next to their current store. The company have blended into their surroundings but still manage to carry their entire brand message into the new arm of their business: untouchably cool, refined and also a great social atmosphere. Their business looks exactly as they would like their customer to be.

And… as a side note… their drinks menu is second to none. That can’t be a bad way to do business.

Good business makes a product understandable

One of the biggest problems facing startups is telling people exactly what the point is. Take a few minutes to watch this:

We’d embed it but they disabled embedding…sorry!

No one wants to invest in Brushfyre Media because no body know what it does. This rule applies to startups in the technology market in particular. If your business isn’t instantly understandable to someone who has never worked in your industry, they’ll never know that you can solve their problem.

In the long term, this is apocalyptic if you’re looking to work outside your industry. Want to reach media businesses with your sanitation solution? Don’t talk about environmentally proficient transportation and transformation – talk about clean waste disposal!

Good business is unobtrusive

Bright lights, bells and whistles do a lot for some people – but we’re living in a noisy world. Reining it in might not be a bad option. Everyone is familiar with the Dyson vacuum because they made a point of making everything they sold simple and easy to hide – and yet, you know exactly what to buy when your hoover gives up the ghost, right?

The same principle applies to designing your business. If your offer is really as good as you say it is, you shouldn’t need to be loud and shouty to get your marketing spiel across.

Need another example? Try Coca Cola vs Pepsi Cola. The Coca Cola company rarely ever market themselves on TV through commercials – with the notable and much awaited yearly Christmas advert. Pepsi Cola markets itself relentlessly with big cinematic adverts that feature helicopters and explosions.

But when I say, ‘Name a fizzy drink’ to a child, they’ll probably blurt out  ‘COKE!’ – incidentally, Coke sells 1.6 billion servings daily. That’s a sixth of the global population drinking the brown stuff each day.

They’re doing something right!

Good business is honest


What your clients think about your business is only half of what you tell them. Especially for startups, the temptation is to boast about the revolution that their business will start – but it’s not always an honest claim.

More and more people are realising that the sensational claims made by businesses aren’t always the reality. Defining yourself honestly is one of the best things that you can do for your business.

The worst thing that you can do with your business is to let your clients down because you’ve oversold the benefits of your business. It will only leave you with a bad reputation.

Good business is long-lasting

Design for the future is one of the least valued ideas in business. Everyone wants to be trendy – but a trend will change in a year or six months. Design for 6 years in the future. Leave space!

Remember MySpace? Barely… right? However, six years ago, everybody and their pet cat were on MySpace – bands were marketing their music, businesses had pages, individuals pointed people to their personal site to grab the latest news about their endeavours. Last year between January and February, the website lost 10 million members!

As well as avoiding a lot of catching up and learning curves, if you build your business around what is necessary rather than what is simple and available, you’ll be a market leader and may win business by selling your own success.

Good business is thorough, down to the last detail


As we’ve already mentioned, the temptation to focus heavily on your logo and website when it comes to branding is inevitable but it’s also dangerous.

Your business must focus on working out how to deal with a crisis situation: what is your personality? How can you make your brand values evident in the way that you handle a product failure or a missed deadline?

While you shouldn’t have to prepare for failure in advance, if a mistake is made, knowing how to design your recovery is a super useful ability.

Good business is environmentally-friendly

We’ve got a shallow view of environment. It’s not all about green transport. In your field, is your business giving off a noisey/smokey aura or are you doing renewable work?

Imagine a small telesales company based in Cardiff. One day, they need to make 300 phone calls. However, because they haven’t thought about the future of their business, they forget that when turned down by someone on the other end of the phone line, they can’t just hurl insults.

The telesales company is building their business around an unsustainable idea. They should be building for growth and keeping good relations with potential customers.

Good business is as little design as possible

“My goal is to omit everything superfluous,” said Rams himself, “so that the essential is shown to best possible advantage.”

Having read all of the above points, you’ll probably recognise some things that seem obvious to you. Good work! You’re already designing your business well!

The only thing left for you to do is to continue assessing your business regularly and working out new ways to build a better company.