From Furniture to Fintech: The Competitive Advantage of Danish Design
Danish design is recognised worldwide, and this should be exploited when new fintech solutions are developed and launched.
When the fintech startup, Grandhood raised its first €2,65 mio for its digital pension savings solution, only a handful of investors and businesses even knew about the company. And with good reason. The company’s product hadn’t even hit the market.
Sure, the seasoned team behind the startup and their innovative idea helps to explain the company’s appeal to early investors, but the design also played a critical role. According to Grandhood’s co-founder and its chief technology officer, Jens Kam: “Trust is essential when people have to choose who gets to manage their pension savings. For that reason it became very important for us early on in the process to create a strong and coherent story – not least visually – so we didn’t risk having to change it too much later on. It was important to us that people knew who we were and got the impression that we knew what we were doing from the get-go.”
Building their brand story, the young company worked with the design giant, Designit to foster trust among investors and customers alike and to keep them happy with the platform. Designit have also helped the prominent fintech startups Lunar Way and Undo shape their visual identity.
The company’s design director, Carsten Henriksen, explains, “The design industry has had a hard time communicating the value before a company starts selling something to the market. However, our work with fintech startups has shown how you can get sign-ups and attract investors before having a product by having a strong design-DNA connected to the company’s values early on in the process. You skip some steps because you’ve managed to articulate value very early on, so you don’t have to pursue 3-4 prototypes before investors and customers see the potential.”
Technology and design go hand-in-hand
‘The Egg’ chair, PH lamps, and the Sydney Opera House have each played a vital role in putting the minimalistic and functional Danish design philosophy on the map. Of course, great design isn’t just about introducing a beautiful product into the digital world. Equally important is the user experience and the brand that is carrying the product.
“Great design is what differentiates products and services and creates additional value for the customers. Danish design and our design DNA is something we’re world famous for – something that differentiates us from other countries,” says Christian Bason, CEO at Danish Design Center.
Expanding on this idea, because legacy systems and heavy regulation characterise the financial sector, Bason suggests it’s especially important for the sector to develop digital solutions with a bias towards user-friendliness and uptake.
As a case in point, Bason explains this approach has “… been the great success for Mobilepay. When we look at who’s winning today, it is solutions and products that have reduced complexity. That makes it simple, intuitive, and meaningful for customers to engage with something that has traditionally been hard to understand.”
Consistent with this, Designit leads with the assumption that they will not “geek out” their products. Granted, sophisticated technologies and algorithms are essential in the development process, but what takes the lead is understanding how technology can create value for the customer.
“Startups are typically strong on the technical side of things, but very few manage to link the technology and communicate why it creates value in a new way. If that isn’t part of the engine room from the beginning, it’s just another product – not part of the brand,” according to Henriksen.
Great design fast-tracks success
Not only startups but also established companies are discovering the importance of design. By including design early on in their journey, young companies have an opportunity to inject an advantage into their very DNA – without having to complete a 180-degree turn down the road.
True, it can be expensive for a startup to absorb the costs of design consultants from the beginning. For Henriksen, the head-start that comes with design thinking is evident in a number of ways. Paraphrasing, great design will make it clear to potential customers and investors early on why they should get on board; this, in turn, will fundamentally affect the business culture and brand.
“Being a startup is a maturity process. You’re not just building a project, but also an organisation and philosophy. All of a sudden, you’re growing from 3 to 20 employees, and that makes it important to have a brand and a common understanding of what the company is and wants. It’s possible to hire very skilled people by having a mission and strong self-understanding. You only have one shot – and there’s a risk in letting your aunt be in charge of branding and design,” Carsten Henriksen says.
Design-DNA must be cultivated
Although Danish design is recognised worldwide, other countries are starting to share the stage, including Singapore, Great Britain, and Sweden.
For that reason, Bason thinks it’s important that Danish designers consciously reflect on and grapple with what constitutes our design DNA.
“I don’t think our DNA – which has a unique aesthetic and is more social, collaboration-oriented, and sustainable – is something you can just imitate. However, we can’t rest on our laurels. If we want to be even sharper and develop our DNA; we have to know what it is… maybe we could dare to be a little wilder and more experimental – especially when it comes to new technological possibilities,” Bason suggests.
Acting on this, the Danish Design Center and partner organisations have articulated ten principles at the heart of Danish design. In a nutshell, Denmark isn’t leading the global race to develop new technologies, but Danish design has an edge which can be used competitively, and it ought to be exploited.
In Bason’s words, “Denmark isn’t known for being Silicon Valley. However, we are known in the rest of the world for being accomplished designers. We have to take advantage of that. It might be our unique resource in a global context. Everyone has access to the technologies, but they don’t have access to our designers and design tradition.”