For those who love design, it's surely fitting that St Valentine's Day marks the launch of a new programme on 'design thinking' and its benefits for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
The Thinking Ahead Through Design programme will hold its first workshop in Waterford on Friday, February 14. Further workshops will be held in Meath and Mayo the following week, with 25 SMEs taking part.
It's part of a collaborative, EU-funded initiative called User Factor that includes Ireland and seven other partners across western Europe.
But what is design thinking? Certainly, design is something we intuitively understand in terms of products and packaging, from the sleek lines of a Tesla car to the ritual involved in opening the box of a new iPhone.
Yet design is an equally important component in the provision of services, and even in terms of how a business is run.
It emerged through manufacturing, where design thinking helped ensure goods were more easily mass-produced.
Today, it is understood as a way of putting every aspect of 'user experience' under the microscope.
That includes the customer, of course, but can include employees too, if your aim is to ensure your workforce is being used as efficiently as possible, for example.
As such, design thinking is best viewed as a creative, problem-solving activity. It is a valuable diagnostic tool and an important lever for innovation.
If something is not working, or could work better, design thinking offers a way of assessing where the problem lies and what improvements can be made.
Research has shown that businesses supported to use design survive longer, grow more and are more productive.
Yet studies also indicate that 56pc of European businesses do not use design at all and, of those that do, 14pc use it for styling only.
The companies participating in Thinking Ahead Through Design come from a range of regions, sectors and business life-cycle stages. They vary from having 10 staff to having more than 100.
At each workshop, participants will learn how design thinking could help their business to grow and scale.
After the workshop, each will be supported with one-to-one guidance from a design practitioner over a six-month period.
They will also visit SMEs that use design thinking as a major part of their business, to see it in action.
At Enterprise Ireland, we are well aware of the benefits to companies that employ design thinking effectively.
These include companies such as Marco Beverage Systems in Dublin, which puts design at the core of its offering.
Another example is Modular Automation in Clare, a company that adopts design thinking to develop innovative solutions for clients in the medtech sector.
The programme is funded through Enterprise Ireland and the Interreg Atlantic Area, and delivered by the Industry Research and Development Group, a leading proponent of design thinking.
It is only recently that Irish SMEs have begun to grasp the strategic role that design thinking can play in their growth.
Yet design thinking is a practice that is of benefit to all sectors, from consumer products through to construction, engineering, services and ICT.
It can be deployed in any aspect of any business, in any industry.
Indeed, it needs to be omnipresent in all of them, because it is not about looking for one dramatic shift.
Rather, it is a way of constantly looking for the incremental improvements that can significantly enhance the user experience.
It can be a difficult concept to grasp. But what the Valentine's Day workshop will equip participants with is a clear methodology, a structure and a timeline with which to practically apply design thinking to their own business.
More than ever, the lines between products and services are blurring.
What is clear, however, is that design thinking has the potential to create significant value for businesses of all kinds. Who couldn't love that?
Stephen Hughes is head of consumer retail at Enterprise Ireland
Sunday Indo Business