Better By Design is a NZ Government sponsored program that seeks to help high growth companies become design-led – and thus turn into great companies.
The end goal of Better by Design is for New Zealand companies to generate more export sales by selling better-designed products and services.
It all came out of a 2003 paper and kicked off at a 2005 conference, and it’s part of NZTE.
There’s an impressive advisory board, led by Jeremy Moon (Icebreaker) and assisted by Rick Wells (Formway). Those are two great design led companies – and another one is Apple. It’s no coincidence that I’m typing on an Apple computer, sitting on a Formway Life Chair and wearing 3 separate pieces of Icebreaker clothing. These are companies that understand what I need before I need it and make beautiful products that fit those needs – products that are more addictive than caffeine.
Better by Design’s primary vehicle is the Design Integration Program – a six stage process that identifies high growth export led companies that would benefit from the program, audits them to assess their gaps to being design-led, writes a plan and then helps the company get the plan done.
BBD uses three external consultancies to perform the audits and write, with the client company, the plan to become design led. BBD’s own internal consultants, who each boast an impressive private sector CV, identify and bring companies aboard, guide them through the process and then help companies get the plans done.
Oh – and the audit and plan are free to the participating companies.
It is, however, really rather difficult to get into the program.
Well over 100 companies have been or are going through the process, and there have been some notable successes. Check out the case studies for OBO and Bendon, each of whom has transformed their business in recent years. There are other case studies as well.
The primary measure is dollars earned from exports, and I am told that the results are well above expectations.
I recently joined the team at Equip Design, one of the three external firms that companies can choose to perform the Design Audit and Plan (called a Design360). I’m joining Equip founders Ray Labone and Peter Haythornwaite along with Andrew Jones.
Ray has been in this program from the very beginning, and is a (or the) leading branding consultant. He co-founded Designworks and he chaired the Design Taskforce that created the work that ended up as Better By Design.
Peter has a similarly stellar career in the Industrial Design field – running his own design company for many years and, well if you are in the field you know who he is.
Interestingly one of my cousins (Mikkel Johannessen) worked for Ray years ago, and another (Nils Johannessen) for a design company that Peter founded. They both went through what was then the Wellington Polytechnic School of Design, and I remember Nils’ class designed MP3 players – in about 1990.
Andrew is an engineer and has far too much production process consulting experience.
So I’ve joined a very strong team – and I’m there not because I love caressing gorgeous Apple products, agonizing over website design, or because I derive a perverse pleasure from helping production processes get better. Instead I am there to provide a business perspective to the team, as the audits and plans tend to go to the very core of what a company does and how it does it.
I bring with me a pretty ruthless approach to the process of growing and improving businesses, one that has always stayed clear of chasing government money just because it is there. I believe in the BBD program as the participating companies are very well screened, it’s free, the BBD team and external consultants have great CVs, and the track record is peerless.
I’m really looking forward to this work – it’s only a handful of days a month, but it means I get to see and help some great companies all over New Zealand. The BBD team has not focussed on web-based businesses, and so I will extend my reach and hope to be able to do some cross-pollination between the two worlds.
I will also learn a lot – from Ray, Peter and Andrew and from the companies that I get to see, and get to apply that to other things that I am involved with.
There is a chance that things will change a bit after the forthcoming budget, but I sense a confident mood given the track record of the program.
Hopefully you will read here about the great companies in the program, but only if all parties (BBD, Equip and hte company itself) are comfortable.