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Taking the first steps to unlock the value of data for your design business

7 min read

As part of an ongoing effort to provide resources that support the design community, DesignSingapore Council finds out how design firms can use and unlock the value of data for your design business.

Caption: Photo by Franki Chamaki on Unsplash

When it comes to making business decisions – do you rely more on your gut or data?

According to a 2020 paper by Forrester Consulting, the small businesses that coped best with the impact of COVID-19 were the ones making informed decisions backed mostly by  data.

This is not surprising. The business world has long recognised that data can help organisations understand customers better so that more relevant products and services, even marketing efforts, could be developed.

Develop a data-first mindset

A good example would be fashion retailer Zalora, which prides itself as a “data first, then fashion” company. It tracks and analyses every aspect of its operations to grow its business.

When COVID-19 struck, Zalora dived into its data to understand how the pandemic was changing the shopping behaviour of its 2.6 million customers in the region including Singapore. Because it was relying on real-time data, it could respond on the fly.

For instance, when more people began working from home, it saw a spike in demand for activewear and loungewear and promptly expanded offerings in these categories.

It was during this time that Zalora launched a new data platform called Trender. The paid service allows the 3,000 brands (on the Zalora platform) to tap its data and user insights to inform their marketing, merchandising, design and product development decisions.

This paid service was developed after Zalora noticed that brand partners were paying more attention to customer transaction data to stay ahead of trends – they were adapting their offerings to meet customer’s changing needs and preferences.  

Zalora made Trender free to use in the second quarter of 2020 to help partners cope with the volatile retail situation then.

Baby steps first

While data might seem daunting especially for creatives, design businesses can still take advantage of data by starting small, says Yvonne Li of Tate Anzur, a strategic communications agency that uses data to help clients with branding, marketing and PR.

She advises design firms to start with easy-to-access data from sources like the insights section of Facebook pages, or Google Analytics tagged to companies’ websites.

“Begin with a simple objective, such as finding out how well your business is doing in terms of website visits or engagements on Facebook. These activities encourage the use of the data on your native platforms and can slowly build familiarity,” she says.  

After some time, companies will be able to establish initial benchmarks with the data and think of ways to improve them, such as through digital marketing.

Start early

Joshua Koh, CEO of Homegrown furniture design company Commune, shares that the company began taking concrete steps to collect data two years ago in a bid to make more data-driven decisions.

“Data is only good if you collect over period of time and only good if you collect the right data and have someone to clean it up before you make sense of it,” he says.

After determining the data required , Commune worked with a developer to set up systems to capture them. This included re-designing their e-commerce platform, and installing sensors in physical stores to track the demographics and browsing patterns of shoppers.

While Commune now has a broad view of the data it has collected, Koh says his next step is to hire a specialist to derive deeper insights and “make sense” of it so that he can further optimise his marketing and product development efforts.

He admits that most SMEs, including Commune, would find it daunting to hire a full-time data analyst, much less form dedicated data teams. Therefore, he is looking to work with consultants for a start.

Build in-house capabilities

QED, a digital consultancy, has helped clients to analyse consumer data sets for trends and patterns to identify revenue opportunities before designing and implementing strategies to capitalise on them. These actions helped clients to gain an uplift in monthly average sales, shares Natasha Zhao, a partner and senior consultant at QED.  

Even so, Zhao is a firm believer of businesses gaining in-house capabilities when it comes to interpreting data.

To this end, the firm runs a Business Data Storytelling workshop to teach professionals, including executives and managers who need to present data to management teams, how to design evidence-based business stories using data and a storytelling framework.

The course covers the basic techniques of data analysis and how to turn those insights into a compelling narrative to communicate persuasively to customers, investors or even internally to bosses or team members.  

“Formulating compelling narratives for a business backed by supporting data is best done by the companies and their business owners as the key here is business understanding. There’s no better person who understands the business than someone within the organisation,” she explains.

Just as Zalora has managed to monetise its data with Trender, Zhao says design firms that gain mastery over data and data storytelling could offer this additional service to clients. Gaining competency in data today could mean business growth tomorrow.

Want to up your data game?

Check out Dsg’s aggregated services panel if you’re looking to hire an external agency. They are from our panel of service providers offering Shared Services for Design Firms at preferential rates 20% to 50% below usual rates.

Know anyone keen to reskill?

See this list of online design and non-design related courses that can equip designers and design businesses with new and relevant skills.


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Singapore’s highest honour for designers and designs across all disciplines
One of Asia’s premier design festivals that champions design thought leadership
National Design Centre