March 6th: release of Design the new Business

On march 6th (tomorrow) our documentary Design the new Business will be released online to be viewed by anyone who has 38 minutes to spare and is interested. After officially screening the movie for a few months it is now time to let it go and to open up! This review is to celebrate that release.

In the spring of 2011, the idea for the movie was born. Through my teaching, writing and consultancy practises, I got more and more interested in how new design approaches are helping large organisations deal with complex issues. I saw product driven companies work to make the transition to a more service dominant logic. I saw technology centred companies aspiring to become more human centred, with technology as enabler. And I saw large companies struggle with the agility and entrepreneurial spirit that is required for relevant innovation.

So Zilver and 6 students from Strategic Design at TU Delft made a movie on the topic. It’s time to look back and reflect, and to look forward and anticipate!

First of all it is interesting to note how the movie itself, the actual 38 minutes of edited footage, seems to be just a little speck in the entire process. This process consists of two halves, that are mirrored around the thing itself:

1. The process of DthenewB team working together in conceptualizing, shooting, editing and discussing the movie. (see this ‘making of’ clip for an impression)

Behind the Scenes from DTNB from dthenewb on Vimeo.

2. The process of viewers around the globe screening, watching, discussing and commenting on the movie.

The first half of the process was great: exhilarating, hard, complex, more work than we ever anticipated, but very very inspiring and a great experiment leading to a nice little prototype of a documentary.

But it’s this second half of the process that is especially nice: people from Sydney to Helsinki, from Capetown to Singapore, from Barcelona to Virginia, have taken the time to assemble some people around a screen and watch and discuss the movie together.  And most of them have been so kind to share their findings with us. What we’ve learned is that the topic really jives with people (to quote Maria Bezaitis from Intel at 20:42 in the movie), and fortunately not only designers. The movie triggers good discussions around the theme of new ways of doing business, and the role of design approaches therein. In that sense the movie is a huge success: as a boundary object to open up the debate, something to group around with various people and exchange learnings and opinions.

At the Hogeschool Utrecht last week, students, teachers, entrepreneurs, business people and designers gathered to watch the movie and try out the worksop format we’ve developed. The discussions were extremely fruitful, applicable and inspiring!

And this is actually the part of the whole DthenewB setup that we want to expand. We want to facilitate the learning process (of ourselves and anyone interested in the topic) and enable the capturing of these learnings.  Therefore we’ve developed a workshop program and facilitators toolkit that you will find on a new dedicated section of the DthenewB website. The core of the programme will be the movie and the more in depth interviews we are currently editing. From there, the program offers various topics to explore in more detail, in the form of a training, a facilitated round-table discussion or a workshop. We’ve prototyped and tested parts of this new venture and we are very excited by the  first reactions!

But let’s be honest, there’s more than shiny happy people: criticism on the movie has been fierce. But also truthful and constructive. Here are some of the comments on the movie we got from people around the globe that we learned from the most:

  • “You’ve only looked at large businesses, where are the SME’s?” True, we were especially interested in large companies and their change agents, because the issues they’re facing are so complex. A future project may focus on smaller businesses and the specific issues they are facing.
  • “Why haven’t you portrayed the fear and the misunderstanding a lot of these people encounter in their work?”. Fair point, but we didn’t want to make a movie with ‘moaning people’ quoting Ralf Beuker in 20:44 of the movie) On the other hand, it shouldn’t be a success stories only movie. We may not have stuck the exact right balance.
  • “It’s just a lot of talk, where are the examples?”. Again, fair point. It was hard to make a short movie with sufficient depth AND show a lot of case studies, within the time and budget constraints we had (Zilver financed this movie out of our own pocket). Although we have attempted to put in some case material I think the movie overall has turned out to be too abstract for some viewers. This is a great challenge for a next movie project: how to show the process and the outcomes in a visually engaging and concrete way (where typically between the two lies at least a year and some content is confidential).
  • “It is unclear to me who you are trying to target with this movie”. We are targeting anyone who might be interested in how new design approaches are helping large organisations deal with complex issues, and how new agencies and schools are operating in this field. This includes a somewhat eclectic bunch of students, educators, consultants, managers, designers and so forth. I think the ‘complaint’ behind this question is: “I don’t feel you’re addressing me”. This question usually comes from people who are not seeing anything new in the movie, or who don’t connect to the topic at all. Fair enough, we have created a bit of a niche product haven’t we? 😉
  • “I hoped to find out what design thinking is, you haven’t given me the answer”. True. We specifically did not want to make a movie on what design thinking is but on what it does. Google ‘design thinking’ and you’ll get plenty of definitions (some better than others). Google “what does design thinking do for my company” and you get none. Ask a designer what design thinking is and he’ll more or less know the answer. Ask a business manager what design thinking is and he’ll say ‘who cares, just solve the problem’. To be honest, to us the debate on what design thinking is is rather like the plumber endlessly discussing his new wrench with you while all you want from him is to fix your faucet.
  • “The sound of the movie sucks”. It sure does. We made the huge mistake of not investing in the right type of microphone. Sorry.

But, all in all, I learned a great deal from this project and the people we interviewed. Here are my key insights:


The days of push marketing are over, companies have to learn to identify their space in value networks. Transitions are not disruptions of your core business, they are your core business.


If you want to innovate, it’s vital that you find the right stage in the organisation to play on. Designers build bridges between abstract and concrete, internal and external, idea and execution, research and development, etc. It’s not business and design, that are opposing entities, it’s more are you in the business of creating new things or optimizing existing things?

Alexander Osterwalder

People are building new businesses based on business models from the past. But if you want to innovate, you have to include new business models. And you have to involve designers. Designers have the right mind-set to fail and learn so you don’t fail big. And they have the tools and methods to help businesses create growth.

Frido Smulders

The debate on design thinking focuses very much on the creativity part. But design brings much more to the table than just creativity. It’s not about ‘thinking out of the box’ in a workshop or two. Design thinking is more complex and more interesting than that.

Jan Buijs

Designers have the ability to analyse and synthesise. This is a very valuable skill. But it’s not about taking the design route OR the business route, design is part of business, it supports business objectives. What designers contribute is both thinking and doing.

Ralf Beuker

Designers have to stop moaning about being misunderstood and instead add value to business. Everyone understands value. Where business thinking has the ability to make sense of the past through measurements, designers have the ability to make sense of the future through empathy and insight.

Claro Partners and Maria Bezaitis from Intel

A lot of services revolve around the understanding that there’s a shift from ownership to access to an experience. Combining business understanding and business model innovation with social insights and understanding. Clients are not buying design thinking from you, or research as such. They are buying outcomes and solutions. You can only get there through creativity and interpretation of data.

Damian Kernhan and Amanda O’Donell from Virgin Mobile

Making the complex simple is Damian’s core business. Differentiation requires a service design approach, leading to experience innovation that does impact the bottom line. Emotion is crucial in getting people on board to design the new business. The business approach and the design approach go hand in hand to deliver magic, yeah J


The shift from return of investment in a financial way to return on investment in terms of loyalty.

Arne van Oosterom and Ton Borsboom from Philips

Design thinking is not a method, it’s about finding the right method for the purpose and asking the right questions. More info on designers DNA which we co-founded: Product focussed companies are starting to embrace service design because products are becoming interconnected and become surrounded by a service eco-system. But it’s an emerging competence that needs to be learned. Designers as connectors between businesses and departments.


Design is a very human activity that helps organisations become more people centred. You can’t solve new problems with old solutions. Design is about finding new solutions. Design thinkers are comfortable with postponing the moment of pinning down the problem, to explore different ways of framing the problem to find newer and better solutions. It’s about balancing analytical approaches to problem solving with more design led approaches.

I’m very excited about this project and all that’s to come. Keep discussing, keep reflecting, and keep doing! And please don’t spare us your criticism! Or your thumbs up 😉

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this is Erik Roscam Abbing's blog on topics relating to the synergy between branding, innovation and design. Erik is a consultant (, teacher (, and frequent speaker on the topic of Brand Driven Innovation. He is also the author of the book by the same title, to appear in autumn 2010 at For inquiries, contact erik at erik at
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