The Value of Values: Ian Elder, Economic Development Manager at The Lighthouse

Ian Elder, Economic Development Manager at The Lighthouse, Scotland’s Centre for Design and Architecture, considers the ‘value of values’ and how design thinking is driving innovation and creating new opportunities for purpose-driven businesses.

The first Venturefest Scotland 2017 feeder events have started and they look at a variety of innovative and commercial topics while signposting the main event on 20th September 2017. This creates another opportunity for SMEs, entrepreneurs, innovators, investors and academics to come together to learn, to connect and to do business.

One of the themes which will be developed at the summit will be the ‘value of values’. This can be applied to company structures, propositions and, in this increasingly digitised and automated world, potentially to lines of code.

The growth of Social Enterprises and Cooperatives as a way to wrap organisational structures around core values and deliver innovative and impactful change continues. The use of profit is different for these organisations as it is not the final outcome but the necessary output to deliver on their values. Glasgow is at the forefront of the development of Social Enterprises and Cooperatives and enjoys an international reputation for this. An example is the International Network of Street Papers, based in Glasgow. From here it supports an expanding network by developing projects and services for street papers on all five continents which in Britain is the Big Issue. Civic Innovation, which brings together service providers from both the public and private sectors, is another area in which design thinking is driving innovation and creating new opportunities for businesses based on shared values.

There are those SMEs which create products and services based on values that create a narrative which resonate with customers. These attract customers; help create loyalty and can potentially make them advocates for those values. While this can be empowering, the creative industries, particularly those in the music industry, are still developing propositions which will create sustainable businesses. Open source development is another area in which the value behind an idea can conflict with emerging business models, especially as companies try to commercialise the output of open source development. The challenge for many companies is to recognise these values in their customers and adapt their business model to incorporate it. There is an example of a fashion company which has started to make some of its patterns downloadable in response to customer demand.

In this increasingly automated world designers are working with SMEs to develop digital customer experiences which not only have to look and feel appropriate, but also interact with those customers in a way which is appropriate to the values of the business. It is an exaggeration to think that there is a moral component that needs to be embedded in the code. Over 60% of stock exchange trades are based on algorithms or are automated, but there is always an element of human supervision. Conversations around AI often conjure up images of a designer trying to create a piece of code which will enable an automated product to make a moral decision, especially when it comes to self-driving cars!

The challenge for designers is, as always, to understand the client, the customer and the brief. Working with the client they use the design process to create products, services and experiences which express those values. The design process while it can be expressed in code, products and services is people centric and therefore ideally placed to communicate the value of values.

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