Sustainable Business Design with Yara Dobra, Joscha Ilge and Michael Geiss

Sustainable Business Design: A Conversation with Iconstorm

Bild: Beitragsbild Nachhaltiges Business Design Interview
In this article: We will soon publish a detailed white paper on our website about sustainable business design and its anchoring in strategic design. A highly relevant topic in times of climate change, but also of change in general. As part of the publication, we also talked to our business design experts Yara, Joscha and Michael and are now publishing the internal “interview” on our blog.


Get the white paper here:

Iconstorm White Paper<br>Sustainable Business Design
Iconstorm White Paper
Sustainable Business Design

Shape a future-ready business with Strategic Design

  • Use proven Business Design methods to develop sustainable business models.
  • Create Meaningful Innovation using the Strategic Design framework.
  • Including an expert interview, a case study and our favorite practice tips.


Sustainable Business Design

A conversation with our experts

featuring Yara Dobra, Joscha Ilge und Michael Geiss

Can you tell our readers who you are?

Yara: I’m Yara Dobra, expert for Business Design and sustainability at Iconstorm.

Joscha: I’m Joscha Ilge, UX Designer and Innovation Consultant at Iconstorm.

Michael: I’m Michael Geiss, responsible for Business Design Strategy at Iconstorm.
Business Design is a multi-faceted field. How did you become established as professionals in this area?
Yara: When I was a student, there were no degree programs that combined design with business. So, my focus was on mobile architecture. I was particularly interested in temporary structures such as concept stores, festivals or film sets because they are so versatile. In this context, I also dealt with the long-term recyclability of materials. I did my master’s degree in business in a sparsely developed region of Spain, where I got to know a lot of grassroots entrepreneurship initiatives and alternative forms of cooperation. The wealth of ideas and the innovative capacity of the people in this environment inspired me a lot and still influence me today. I discovered how you usually tackle innovation in a situation where you need to look for a new starting point and have to try something out.

Joscha: I worked as a freelancer for a very long time and experienced various organizational constellations alongside the agency landscape. As a UX designer, my projects were always close to the product—and products without a business model are not really products. In this context, I realized that the topic automatically tied in with my area of expertise. I found that
exciting, wanted to know more and therefore took the master’s program Entrepreneurship and Business Development. So, I discovered Business Design through the lens of the users. In a nutshell, it’s about what people want and how you can translate that into a product.

Michael: I first started with a degree in economics, and as an economist viewed things from a big picture perspective. But in addition to this analytical orientation, I have always
been very creative in my work. That’s why I founded my first communications agency as a student. In this context, I was incredibly fascinated by how designers can grasp the basic structures of the most complex topics and then develop something new from them. The pragmatic “making and showing” is a refreshing antithesis to the sometimes needlessly complicated scientific language. In my agency, we worked on strategic problems with design methods through “Consulting by Design”. Later, management circles started to realize that design is a universal approach to working on complex problems, and Business Design became suddenly very popular. I entered the field early, when traditional management methods were still dominant.

Image: Sustainable Business Design, Gespräch bei Iconstorm
Due to the pandemic, our talk needed to be remote, but we still had a good time.

Was the introduction of the topic also turning point for Iconstorm back then?
Michael: My approach to projects has changed the way we look at our tasks. As a digital agency, we have always found that the moment you develop digital products or processes, you are already fundamentally touching the business model of a company—in other words, changing the relationship with customers and the value creation of the company. This inevitably means that we ask fundamental questions and need a holistic approach, which we now call Strategic Design.

Joscha: That’s exactly what I felt in my projects as a UX designer. There was something like a natural boundary. There was always an essential part of my work that felt omitted.
However, as a UX designer you have to break through exactly that wall to understand the whole. Design is very much interrelated in its disciplines. The goal should therefore be to dissolve the boundaries between these sub-disciplines. This is how we reach a level where innovations are future-proof, sustainable and desirable.

Yara: And this is why I think Strategic Design is so exciting. It brings together the disciplines of Business Design, UX design and many more, and it enables the flow of information and sharing between different silos. The integration of such fields is definitely the special strength of design. That’s why I think it’s particularly important that we first open up topics by asking: Why? What? How? From this, concepts such as Meaningful Innovation are derived, i.e., the claim to make a positive change that is sustainable in both the economic and social sense. Design provides a platform for better cooperation and a common language.

Image: Meaningful Innovation Framework – meaningful innovation emerges in the search field between human context, technology, economic and environmental considerations
Meaningful Innovation
Business Design, business models and the issue of sustainability are just as much a focus of our innovation projects as technology and human-centered design. Only through their integration can we find solutions that work in the long term.

Image: The design process according to the British Design Council
Strategic Design Process
At the end of our design projects, there are always suitable business models in addition to connectable prototypes. The combination satisfies a holistic approach that focuses on sustainable solutions.

How do companies approach strategic questions today? What observations have you made?
Michael: I would like to take a look back at this juncture: In the past, strategic planning was often left to a body of experts: top management and its consultants. This body developed a business strategy and set the direction for operations. Today, this no longer works because the dynamics of change are far too great. In strategy development, you have to involve many people right from the start, especially from the operational areas and with customer proximity. For this, you need tools and methods that are easy to understand. A Business Design process enables many people to get involved. And this is precisely why it generates so many new ideas: because people get involved, who normally would never be asked in the first place. However, the basis for such an approach is that the management supports it or is open to it.

Yara: This brings us to the topic of design maturity, because in many corporate groups and medium-sized companies, the typical approach to work is still pretty old-school. Even many start-ups that are supposedly organized collaboratively seem to be heading down a path that will ultimately land them where many larger companies are now—namely with rigid hierarchies and top-down decisions. So, in many cases, the operational reality does not reflect what would be desirable from a design perspective, for example co-creation or agile working.

Joscha: Still, there are also many companies that are already making an effort to establish agile structures. For example, to take away hierarchies and implement work at eye level based on more independent decision-making. I think people have recognized what is the better fit for the conditions of today’s context. And doesn’t that link up perfectly with Iconstorm’s mission to support those who want something new to create something new?

Iconstorm’s Business Design Team

Bild: Yara Dobra
Yara Dobra
Specialist for Business Design and sustainability at Iconstorm

Bild: Joscha Ilge
Joscha Ilge
Senior UX Designer and Innovation Consultant

Bild: Michael Geiss
Michael Geiss
Business Designer and member of the board

Why are you convinced that companies today should engage with design?
Michael: One of my favorite topics is flow, a phenomenon that is researched in psychology and that athletes in particular know very well. When you’re in flow, you don’t have to
think anymore and what you are doing just works seemingly by itself. In projects with our clients, we have seen how a good design process brings a team into a flow state, in which suddenly everyone knows what to do and is in harmony with the work and everyone else. From this process, then, something emerges. A Strategic Design process is more than just Business Design, but if the top management in the company trusts that this is how you get different and perhaps better results, something good will come of it.

Yara: I would add that, today, it is important to break away from traditional economic concepts that no longer reflect our reality. For example, from the idea of endless growth. In the future, concepts of circular economics will become essential, and organizations must respond creatively to circumstances as they are evolving right now. For me, I like how we can work with even just a small team, and still create a huge impact for an organization, not only on the business side, but also on an environmental, social or human level.

Joscha: This, I find, is also a big benefit for companies that want to adapt, but not start with an extensive change process. You can start small and from there grow into a professional culture which can adapt to the many sudden and/or profound changes our world is currently undergoing. For example, if we now need to make our entire economy sustainable, a company needs the willingness and ability to transform, to embark upon new paths. Design is a helpful platform for this, because its focus on creation and practice helps foster a new understanding of how to tackle a problem, how to work together and how to look at innovation. And this understanding can grow from just a single project, in which you try it out.

Thank you very much for your time and insights!

Sustainable Business Design

More on the topic

Read more on our approach to Business Design and its integration in the Strategic Design Framework:
Business Design at Iconstorm