Design can be key to shaping success for export sector
Ireland has not always considered itself a design nation. Yet our understanding of what good design means has evolved as companies recognise its commercial potential across sectors. One milestone occurred when the Design & Crafts Council delivered Irish Design 2015 on the behalf of Enterprise Ireland and the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation. Since that year-long programme, the commercial impact of design in Ireland has continued to evolve. Businesses that may once have viewed design as inessential now recognise its potential.
For today's exporters, an approach to design should embrace two main elements: technology and user experience. Technology describes how a product functions, and user experience how customers engage with the solution, or more importantly, how the solution engages its users. The importance of both has been clear to B2C companies for some time, with the iPhone a famous example of excellence in both. Awareness has spread to less obvious applications, like the production of agricultural machinery. Manufacturers in B2B industries now understand that design can make products look efficient, so that a user's impression of quality is often shaped by design.
Enterprise Ireland has always supported design, mostly with a small 'd', as a crucial component of product development. Irish businesses are actively encouraged to approach Design with a capital 'D', by introducing it into strategy and planning at an earlier point. That focus allows design to have a greater impact than when it is treated as one aspect of product development.
Exporters, in particular, must treat design as strategic. Customers in different markets often have different responses to technology and user experience. It cannot be assumed that design will translate across markets. Firms must, at the very least, consider how to adapt to each market targeted.
Enterprise Ireland supports more and more companies to give design the focus it deserves. The success of Marco Beverage Systems, a hot water delivery systems company, has been fuelled by design-driven innovation. Paul Stack, operations director, explains that design transcends surface styling.
"The main considerations for our design team are energy efficiency, beverage excellence and design excellence, incorporating user experience and aesthetics," he says. With just under 100 employees globally, its products can be seen in major businesses, including Starbucks, Bewley's and Costa Coffee. "A reputation for good design and innovation increases your brand value and drives sales all by itself," says Stack.
For Mcor, a Louth-headquartered company that develops the world's only line of paper-based 3D printers, RD&I enabled a software redesign and a complete architectural change of electronics. The resulting Arke is an integrated printer, with a low price-point that opened up new markets. The benefits of design-driven innovation are clear in Mcor's projection that 2018 will see a doubling of staff and fivefold increase in sales revenue.
Alpha Wireless, an antenna manufacturer headquartered in Portlaoise, worked closely with customers to design a product tailored to specific regulations. "Enterprise Ireland's Business Innovation Initiative funding allowed us to set up an advisory group of industry experts from across the globe," says CEO Fergal Lawlor. "We worked with them to review the market, decide what technologies were needed and develop a new concept."
Since applying for funding in 2015, Alpha Wireless sales in the UK are now in the millions and it has more than doubled its Irish workforce to 120 employees. These examples show the potential of design to shape business results.
Stephen Hughes is Enterprise Ireland manager for construction, timber and consumer retail
Sunday Indo Business