Rehla Design

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Innovation and Design Strategy for SMEs

As a relatively young country, UAE's manufacturing scene comprises a wide range of players including multinational brands on the one hand, and small-to-medium manufacturing enterprises (SMEs) on the other. The international manufacturing brands tend to be more design-savvy and strategic, with cohesive brand systems in place. A good majority of the locally-grown SMEs — the bread and butter of Dubai's economy — have yet to fully embrace design strategy as a tool to improve their brands.

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Design considerations by the SME world is typically met with reluctance and hesitation due to a lack of awareness of the potential of design. Yet, design strategy as a tool is probably one of their biggest assets. The key to design is that it unlocks potential to reach clients and stand out from competition. It also has the power to bind employees together; after all, a more unified team, always makes for a more resilient company.

The story of many such SMEs run the same tune — founders migrated to the UAE thirty odd years ago, slogged through the heat and saw their 'mom and pop' businesses grow to million dollar enterprises. With many of these businesses in the midst of being passed down a generation, we have observed and been privy to differing operational styles between generations — to go with tried and tested approaches, or introduce new methods and practices.

What we have seen from our work in more mature markets is that while dated approaches may work due to strongly built networks, they are always subject to disruption. The key to survive and thrive is to periodically recalibrate the company's brand voice so that newer generations (both employees and customers) feel a sense of belonging and commitment to the founder's vision and purpose.

The key to survive and thrive is to periodically recalibrate the company’s brand voice so that newer generations feel a sense of belonging and commitment.
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The value of design is that it can serve as a framework for businesses, whether as visual assets that can simplify processes, or designed solutions that are clear, consistent and concise. Today, with technology as a predominant driver of how people interact with brands, it is important to remember that businesses moving forward have to consider multiple touchpoints in order to reach out and stay relevant.

As a strategic design consultancy based in Dubai, we have been working hard to communicate the value of design thinking to SMEs and startups. At the core of our focus is the recognition that while businesses may be in the black and not particularly concerned with improving their brand image, they could unwittingly be causing their own downfall. A sound business strategy is one that clearly understands who it is in service of, and continuously seeks to connect with them through the ebb and flow of business cycles.