Innovation in the Digital Age
Does Industry 4.0 call for Design 4.0?

Production and development processes, the competitive environment and even users’ wants and needs are changing fundamentally as a result of digitalisation. And once and for all, new methods and structures are turning design into a key, agile innovation tool.

It’s something of a truism to say that design improves products and creates essential added value for manufacturers. Every year, internationally renowned design awards showcase these very qualities with prime examples of successful design from both the consumer and B2B sectors – and that includes machinery and plant too. Clever design manifests itself on all sorts of levels: it improves handling and ergonomics, boosts the brand identity of the product and manufacturer, instigates new production processes or materials and reduces manufacturing and operating costs. As a result, it gives professional users the opportunity to add value through faster maintenance, enhanced usability and better functionality. And quite apart from anything else, an aesthetic design language strengthens soft factors like motivation or identification as well. Design gives companies a competitive edge, because products that are poorly designed or not designed at all simply don’t sell well. But design achieves the best effects of all when it’s factored into the development process as early as possible rather than merely being expected to contribute the final “wrapping”.

Design makes processes agile
In the age of Industry 4.0, strategic design plays an even more important role in the development process – provided it’s redefined and implemented in a goal-driven way. Because even today, the linear development process with its clear-cut initial brief and step-by-step optimisations is already largely obsolete. Not because it’s failed to prove its worth over the last few decades, but because it can no longer keep up with the pace required. Innovations have to be ready for market a lot faster than they used to. That’s the only way for companies to survive in the face of fierce international competition. Agility is becoming the new measure of all things – and that goes for the entire company, including its partners and suppliers. In future, competition won’t just come from established rivals; it will come from global digital companies like Google and Amazon too – and also from innovative startups, which are often equipped with plenty of capital, free to act fast and without constraining structures, and in a position to redefine markets. Say hello to disruption! It‘s no secret that a system’s flexibility can be increased by trimming it down and dispensing with any unnecessary ballast. So does that mean design can be dispensed with too? Definitely not! Because design isn’t just a question of something’s outer shape; it contributes to the development process in all sorts of other ways too. In the form of new materials, new functionalities and alternative technologies, for instance: design is an innovation tool. As a discipline that spans specialisms and sectors, it fuels cross-pollination, or in other words the transfer of innovative approaches from one industry to another. With its broad-based knowledge and dynamic spirit, design serves as a source of fresh impetus.


A strong innovation driver
Digitalisation, along with all the opportunities and risks it entails, is having a lasting impact not just on industry but on design too – and designers and design firms have to actively incorporate the new requirements into their work. Design’s contribution is less and less a purely creative one; it’s strategically relevant. More than ever before, the values embodied by a product, service or system are being defined long before they’re given their final shape. And those values also represent the kind of data-based value-add that are a hallmark of Industry 4.0 and the IoT. Although it might seem abstract at first glance, this is an integral component of products too – and should therefore be expressed in their design. A product’s design thus also serves as an interface with the virtual world of data.

Rethinking things several times over
This new design service is still creative – but more than ever before, it’s underpinned by methodology as well. Agility means a faster pace, as well as more flexible and collaborative development. Change is taking place at breakneck speed – and to avoid a product concept being overtaken by change and becoming obsolete before it’s ready for market without those involved even realising, it’s essential to keep fine-tuning its development to the parameters, make decisions quickly and cultivate the ability to rethink things again at any time. Pearl Creative develops processes that translate these challenges into opportunities. They are rooted in a mindset practised in innovation analysis and based on positive curiosity, empathy, transfer thinking and an open solution approach. This methodology – which Pearl Creative calls Deep Ideation – is team-oriented and relies on workshops, the exchange of ideas and short paths. What’s more, Pearl Creative is able to scale this methodology to suit the specific client. That’s essential, because SMEs are particularly likely to be out of their depth if you go over the top with things like design thinking methods. Pearl Creative works pragmatically and with an eye to implementation, but also with an open mind for ideas, with visions and with the farsightedness that that makes the new possible in the first place.

About the authors:
Tim Storti and Christian Rummel are the founding partners of Pearl Creative, a strategy and design agency based in Ludwigsburg near Stuttgart. Both are experts at identifying customers’ needs and creating unique product experiences while keeping the strategic goals of the manufacturer’s brand firmly in focus.

About the PEARL CREATIVE agency:
Pearl Creative helps companies develop the successful products of tomorrow. “We serve our clients as consultants for the development of product strategies, as innovation drivers who think laterally and look ahead, and as designers who give a new product its perfect form,” says Christian Rummel. “The scope of our support ranges from assistance with an individual area of the project all the way to the entire development process, covering everything from the initial idea all the way to the cutting-edge product. In everything we do, we keep our eyes trained firmly on the user and the brand and are always driven by the aspiration to stay one step ahead.” The experts work for startups, SMEs and major companies, combining their broad-based market experience with proven methods, a sure instinct for trends and the kind of design expertise that only comes with many years of practice. “Strategy, creativity, passion and the courage to think outside the box are the crucial factors behind our success. Since the firm was founded in 2000, we’ve received more than 80 national and international awards, including the German Innovation Award in Gold in 2018 and the German Design Award in Gold in 2019,” says Tim Storti. “But there’s something we value even more highly than these accolades,” he adds. “And that’s our many longstanding relationships with clients like Bosch, Siemens, Kärcher, Brita, Alfi and WMF.”