Design is the new asset

Design assignments are not outsourced anymore, it seems. Instead companies with strength and muscle in finance, technology or manufacturing are going all hog and buying off design firms. Small, nimble and creative design firms have been acquired in the past by large corporations, as increasingly, Design is being seen as the new asset for business development.

Internationally, this trend has been noticed in the past few years. Google acquired Gecko Design, a mechanical design firm last year. Rumour has it, that Google is getting into new hardware design and therefore decided to buy this firm. When you have a new, break-through product to launch, buy a design firm.

China’s Blue Focus, a predominantly PR firm that is also into communication decided to test waters in US’s Silicon valley by acquiring Fuseproject, a design firm that is famous for creating that iconic One Laptop Per Child project. When you want to enter a new market, buy the best design firm.

Adaptive Path, a UX design firm of the Silicon Valley, was acquired by finance major, Capital One in October, last year. Soon after, the company launched a mobile wallet app, justifying the need for a design firm buy-off. When you are into expanding your market, buy a design firm.

The latest news is that, LUNAR, a UX design firm is being bought off by the consulting company, Mckinsey. The story here seems different. McKinsey, hopes to use Design expertise to solve the problems of their clients. Facebook is known to have bought at least three design firms. Deloitte is investing in Doblin. When you want to solve problems creatively, buy a design firm.

If the global trend is to buy design firms, can Indian companies be left behind?

Wipro, the formidable technology company decided to acquire Designit, a Danish design firm, this month. The logic for this is clear : to add value to their existing work. When you want to add value, buy a design firm.

Design is now the all pervasive, new asset for business. This trend of buying off design firms is not new for India. Tata Motors acquired an Italian design firm, Trilix Srl, five years ago, to enhance their styling and designing capabilities.

Kishore Biyani’s Future group, invested in the merger of two design firms of Bangalore, Tessaract Design and Esign, to form Idiom Design, which grew from 2005 to become the largest design firm in India. This has helped the future group invest and rely heavily on Design thinking. When you believe in design thinking, invest in a design firm.

There are earlier acquisitions of design firms in India as well. Ray+Keshavan was acquired by WPP in the 90s to help them get into India. Apparatus Media Labs, a UX design firm, merged with Ogilvy & Mather, the advertising giant, to help them become a robust digital design organisation. And one has also been reading about Mahindra group keen on acquiring Pinnanfarina, the Italian design firm, to enhance their design capabilities. All the are examples of building capacities or acquiring capabilities. When you want to enhance capabilities, invest in a design firm.

Is this just a fad or is this is a trend to map? Whether it is Facebook or Future group, Design’s contribution in developing a business is becoming more obvious than before. It is becoming the trophy wife, everyone is flaunting. From a peripheral, add-on, Design is fast becoming an asset for organisations of any size or stature.

Suddenly, the adage ” Good design means good business”, takes on a whole new meaning.