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Business Design and Business Architecture

Today, Business Design and Business Architecture are two terms that one keeps hearing quite a bit.   Let us understand the concepts, the commonality, the difference, and the synergy between business design and business architecture.

Critical concepts spanning Business Design and Business Architecture:

Business Design:  

The idea of business design owes its existence to a collaboration between corporate America and academia.  P&G (Procter and Gamble) CEO, in his quest for innovation, has sought the help of Roger Martin, former dean of Rotman School of Management.  In turn, David Kelley, the founder of Stanford D-School and Patrick Whitney (Dean at Illinois Institute of Technology), and together they have come up with a structured approach to innovation making design an integral part of the strategy, experience, business models and the like. 

They developed a structured approach, and Business Design involves three core elements:

  • Empathy: What are our customer’s unmet needs?
  • Prototyping: How might we better meet these needs?
  • Strategy: How might we create competitive advantage?
Business Design and Business Architecture - 3 Gears of Business Design

Business Design: Courtesy of Rotman School of Management

Design Thinking:  

Design thinking, pioneered by Stanford Design School (or the D. School) is a structured approach to leap forward to finding creative solutions to customer problems that are not linear or incremental but are innovative leapfrogs.

Tim Brown, the CEO of IDEO, one of the most successful practitioners of design thinking and business design defines the practice as:

“Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.”

Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO


Business Design and Business Architecture - Design thinking conceptual picture

Design Thinking Concept: Courtesy of IDEO


Design thinking can be a valuable tool for many situations – corporations, startups, non-profits, academia, and government.   However, while many teams do claim to do Design Thinking, they follow the letter while ignoring or paying lip service to the spirit of the concept.  However, that is a separate story for a future article.

Business Designer:  

Business Designer is a new profession pioneered by IDEO.    Fundamentally, the business designer is the practitioner of the discipline of business design.  So, in essence, a business designer uses tools such as strategic perspectives, financial analysis, product/market fit, and come up with creative solutions to complex problems.

The aforementioned IDEO summarizes the role of a business designer as follows:

“Business designers take juicy, creative, human-centered innovation and make it succeed out there in the real world. We use strategy, analysis, and financial modeling as generative design tools and help organizations turn their biggest, wildest ideas into businesses with long-term viability.”

One of the business designers at IDEO, Rohini Vibha, has written articles using practical case studies of business design in action by interviewing practitioners in different sectors.

Business Architecture:  

Business Architecture is a discipline that models business and acts as a bridge between business and technology leveraging tools such as capabilities models, value streams, information mapping, system and application mapping, and developing various views and perspectives.

Capability Profile

Let’s also dispel some of the misconceptions:

  • Business Design is not purely about UXD (User Experience Design) even though UXD may be an essential component of the overall business design.
  • Business Design is not purely about Business Architecture, even though components of business architecture may form the structural basis for the former.
  • Business Design is not purely about Strategy, even as strategy is an integral element of business design.
  • Business Design is not only about Design Thinking, even though it is a vital toolkit.
  • Capability modeling alone does not represent business architecture, even though it is the first citizen among all other components.

Can Business Architects become a Business Designer?  

Yes, but just doing the necessary things about business architecture may not be sufficient. It will require strategic, conceptual, financial modeling and design thinking skills. Even if not every business architect may qualify as a business designer, the toolkit of business design can be extremely valuable in the practice of business architecture.

The Business Design and Business Architecture disciplines have a ton of synergy and it is up to the practitioners to use the tools and ideas of both for realizing the vision and moving the needle on how products and services are conceptualized and launched. 

Additional Resources for Business Design and Business Architecture: 

If you are a business architect and thinking about becoming a business designer, or using the concepts in your day-to-day work, here are some links that will be useful.

You can find out what a business designer does and what are his/her experience, background and qualifications are here.

Here are some salary figures for a business designer, even though this can vary based on the level of the position. Hence, we urge you to take these numbers with a grain of salt.

If you are thirsty for additional knowledge, IDEO University has some online courses about Design Thinking.

A few educational institutions such as Georgetown University, Domus Academy, and the University of Southern California, among others, offer courses and degrees. (Please conduct your own due diligence and ensure that these study programs fit your needs.)

Here is additional information about the role of the Business Architect

Mike Clark has a detailed presentation on aligning design with business architecture and it is worth a read. 

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