The Danish Design Ladder

Updated: Dec 14, 2019

Design is good for business. It creates value (both within and without), unity, efficiency, and therefore profits. It provides ways of thinking to take people from where they are today to an imagined future. If something is not designed it becomes messy. Not joined up. Annoying. Non-user centric.

Using design as an organisation is not easy though. Its a journey. A way of thinking. It's not simply something you plugin and press the "on button" to implement. It's also hard to articulate. Sound familiar? This post is for you.

Photo by Liana Mikah on Unsplash

How does your business view design?

I love this tool which helps you rate where your business is (or maybe your own thinking?) in regards to design methods. It’s a diagram of a ladder. At the bottom is "Non-design". As you go up the ladder you move to “Design as styling” and “Design as process” until you reach “Design as strategy”.

The tool resonates with me. I operate at the top of the ladder using design thinking as a way to create strategy with leadership teams. In my career, though I have climbed up each rung to get here and am on a quest to help everyone I meet do the same - both as individuals and as organisations.

Quick explanation: I began knowing nothing about design. Went into Graphic design and used design as styling. Then moved into management and business leadership and used design to create processes. Next, I moved into brand strategy and used design to help business leaders imagine a better future. I'm sure you or others you know will have had similar progressions up the ladder.

So to see this thinking, so elegantly and simply pulled together into a simple diagram, has beauty because it helps us make sense of this progression. When you apply this diagram to organisations and the way they use and think about design it becomes helpful to explain where they might need to go next to improve themselves.

Background info. It was invented by the Danish Design Center back in 2001. Quite a few papers have been written about it since. If you are interested in some more depth and ideas to implement design more in your business, this one is particularly interesting as it goes into depth to explain how you can begin to embed each stage in an organisation and culture.

From a business perspective, The Design Ladder is based on the idea that there is a link between revenue and design. The higher you are on the design ladder the more earnings you will obtain - incidentally this was the conclusion of a research paper based on the Danish Design Ladder published way back in 2003 by Anders Kretzschmar here.