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Why design is at the heart of innovation that fuels our economy

Last Friday, the Designers Institute of New Zealand (DINZ) for the first time awarded its highest honour, a Black Pin, for outstanding achievement in delivering value through design to Fisher & Paykel Healthcare. To do so, it broke with tradition by awarding the honour to an organisation, rather than an individual.

The importance of design to our economy, while not widely acknowledged, has been calculated at over $10 billion. This means that if it were to be treated as an industry in its own right, design’s contribution to our GDP would be greater than agriculture and on a par with retail.

The traditional modesty of our industry belies its achievements, which is why the Institute has this year decided to recognise them formally by the awarding of this Black Pin, and by changing the language and focus of its longstanding Best Effect Award to explicitly recognise the Value of Design.

Organisations in the running for this award were those that had been recognised previously for Best Effect. One saves lives. One kills predator pests. There was also a bank, a broadcaster, a gas appliance maker, a clothing retailer and a fitness brand.

That they appear to have so little in common reflects the commercial reach of design. Collectively BNZ, Barkers Menswear, Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, Goodnature, Les Mills, Rinnai and TVNZ all demonstrate the characteristics that make organisations who deploy design holistically so successful.

Successful design thinking comes from aligning a Singular Organising Principle (SOP) to understanding how customers think, act and feel. Fisher & Paykel get really close to their customers to deliver on their SOP of helping patients; literally watching them sleep to understand how to improve their products.

BNZ’s Youmoney was founded on deep insights into how young people want their bank to behave, motivated by a desire to help them be good with money. While it’s easy to be cynical about a bi-line, it’s hard not to be impressed by BNZ’s redesign of their online mortgage management tools which allowed their customers to collectively eliminate hundreds of thousands of years of future interest payments.

Goodnature and Les Mills can both lay claim to reinventing their industries. Goodnature has greatly enhanced the nationwide control of invasive predators to save our wild ecosystems. This is what drives them. In creating the SmartBar dumbbell, Les Mills reinvented something that had been largely unchanged for centuries – but then their whole schtick is one of reinvention, having taken fitness to a heady mix of music, environment and choreography, now licensed in over 100 countries.

The remaining three companies in those category haven’t had clear weather along their journey, and have trusted in design as a means of navigating through this and refocusing.  

Through prioritising design, all of these businesses are performing extremely well. As co-convenor of the judging panel for this year, all I can say is that deciding who to choose between companies that save lives and save our environment; between state corporations and small business; private and public, was not an easy task. But as a reminder as to the quality and importance of design to our economic and social well-being, it was a truly awarding exercise.

Congratulations to all the winners for their ongoing commitment to design, and also to the Silver and Gold Pin winners in this year’s Value of Design category: Z Energy, Lewis Road Creamery and Allbirds. 

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