Introducing Business Design to MSc Imperial students

Giuliana Mazzetta • Business Designer

Futurice London recently invited 45 Imperial College MSc students studying Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Management to our Shoreditch offices to take a dive into the world of business design!

Having graduated from this programme a few years back, I was happy to introduce the students to the type of work we do here. More specifically, at Futurice, we are totally customer-obsessed, always out to design products and services that solve real customer problems. In order for these solutions to thrive and make their intended impact, it is my job as a business designer to make sure that we are also considering the business needs.


As a quick summary, business design offers a strategic lens that augments traditional design approaches. It’s about having a representative on the team that advocates for the needs of the C-suite, while also considering the larger context the business operates in.

It’s also the aim of the business designer to ensure customer solutions are competitive and can stick. That means prototyping, testing and iterating business models around proposed solutions until a viable model is identified (or not). In this way, it’s about treating business model as a product or service in its own right, and is driven to find the sweet spot between desirability, feasibility and viability.

The need for MSc students to develop a design mindset is so clear that design thinking is a core module of the IEM Programme. To cope with the complexity and uncertainty of the business world and the pace at which the world is changing, it’s vital that students develop a more agile, growth mindset to help them see problems in a different way and solve them in truly innovative ways.

Dr. Ileana Stigliani

A very engaging collaboration between our students and Futurice who gave a flavour into real-life situations. Challenging students to come up with concepts and ideas on the spot was extremely interesting with a great outcome.

Abdus Salam, Programme Manager, MSc Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Management

Of course, it’s not a Futurice workshop unless we get our hands dirty! Once we laid out the theory, the students were challenged to develop business models around future mobility concepts - specifically, autonomous flying cars!


We used our very own IoT service kit to help generate ideas. This is a 3D-printed board game we designed to help bring domain experts out of their silos and co-create user-centric IoT experiences. We also used our business design canvas - which mixes the classic lean startup canvas with a more macro-level view of risks and opportunities, vital assumptions, and the nuts and bolts of financial modelling.

From a subscription service ambulance that flies on top of traffic, to a VIP airport driver whisking you straight from the tarmac to city centre, at the end of the workshop, students pitched their unique concepts to John Oswald, Futurice’s Global Principal of Advisory.

We wrapped up the workshop with insightful feedback from John around our responsibility as business designers not to simply deliver on the profit KPI, but to do much more. How will this concept deliver in terms of sustainability? Who might lose their job if this is introduced? How might this alleviate or perpetuate inequalities in a community? These questions served as a powerful reminders of our responsibility to anticipate negative externalities - and encouraged the room full of budding entrepreneurs - that true innovation comes to play when we can build mindful, inclusive business models that can also contribute to a thriving society.

For students to see how an agency like Futurice work is priceless, because they can appreciate the impact that design can have in shaping the way businesses operate or, more broadly, in shaping the world. Dr. Ileana Stigliani

Last but not least, here's a quick primer on business design.

Business Design Cheat Sheet

  • Business design treats the business model as a product or service in its own right. That means prototyping, testing and iterating like you would with your product or service until you identify the most viable model.
  • Business design requires a macro-level view of what’s going on in the world to connect the dots and inform the creation of competitive business models. This means constantly scanning the world for emerging trends, technologies, behaviours and models in your industry and adjacent industries to inform strategic propositions.
  • Business design isn’t about replacing human-centered design, it’s about enhancing it, following through to ensure that the product and service designed around a real human need can go on to actually fulfill its promise - living through a sustaining business model.
  • Business design is not service design. Why? Business design is about empathising with C-Suite level needs. It’s about working with service designers who champion user needs and identifying where desirability of a concept can also fulfill needs of viability and feasibility of business.
  • Business design is also about killing product and service designer’s darlings. Just because it is desirable for a user, doesn’t mean it is feasible or viable for the business - hence, it won’t survive to benefit the user.
  • Going beyond the profit KPI. It is our responsibility to anticipate negative externalities to society that might arise if we introduce certain business models. For example, who might lose their jobs if this is launched? What will the environmental impact be?