The rise of e-books and reading on digital devices has changed every part on the publishing production chain, affecting everyone from the editors, to the designers, to the marketing and sales people. Editors are spending more time on acquiring books and less time working on manuscripts. Designers become more flexible and strategic: they need to make sure a book won’t be ignored by skimmers who only glance at thumbnails on websites, and must ensure that texts are well-laid-out for reading on many kinds of mobile devices. But they’re not who need to change most. It’s the marketing and sales people who face an ever-more-challenging job.
Unlike technology, design seldom follows a neat curve. When it comes to questions of style, it’s hard to chart steady improvements. At the moment, however, design does seem likely to become an even more powerful business driver—provided it isn’t undone by its own popularity. In a number of sectors, executives are becoming more and more aware that smart design can be a shortcut to competitive advantage. The growth of Starbucks and the rise of Apple are two stories about the power of good design, but a number of industries have been similarly transformed by an idea that was less technically novel than packaged in a more appealing way.
Economists and business strategists have long noticed that industries tend to converge on just a few places. Milan for fashion, London for finance, Silicon Valley for technology—for any given sector, there are usually one or two points on which the whole world revolves. Over the past few decades, this insight has led many policymakers to try to nurture not just individual companies but a whole ecosystem—a cluster—around a single industry. When does a cluster strategy work to spur innovation and when does it backfire? Should creative clusters be engineered by governments or should they be allowed to evolve and flourish on their own?
Once upon a time, designers were considered a fairly rarified breed in the corporate world—people with more interesting hair, eyeglasses and talent than the rest of us, but not a key part of the “real” business. Today, however, that’s changing. As more and more companies face the need for constant innovation, design is earning more respect. In fact, these days, many organizations are training their employees to think like designers. Jeanne Liedtka, a professor of strategy and author of three books on design thinking, argues that learning to approach problems the way designers do can be a useful way to spark innovation in almost every company.