“It’s our mission to prove the power of design”

Good design is good business

Goodpatch puts user experience at the heart of digital products


April 2022 Business Spotlight / Text by Andrew Howitt / Photos by Benjamin Parks

Japan has produced the well-ordered simplicity of Zen, as well as the spectacle of colour and text found on Shinjuku and Shibuya’s neon-lit streets. While Japan itself manages to embody this duality, many Japan-made digital products, such as apps, tend only to resemble the latter. And, like Shinjuku, they are sometimes overwhelming, confusing, and hard to navigate.

“Good design reflects an understanding of consumers’ needs, and it’s essential in today’s business market. You need to provide people with a digital product that both is easy to use and looks good,” says Naofumi Tsuchiya, CEO and founder of the design firm Goodpatch. “It’s our mission to prove the power of design.”

Good user experience
Tsuchiya first recognised the importance of an intuitive user interface (UI) and a smooth user experience (UX) in 2011 on a three-month internship at a design firm in Silicon Valley. He heard about apps such as Instagram, Uber, and Twitter when these global tech giants were still in their first few years of operation.

“What these products had in common was excellent UI and UX for the entire user experience,” says Tsuchiya. “What I saw there was so completely different from what we had in Japan.”

Later that year, after he returned home, Tsuchiya started Goodpatch. The timing was perfect, since iPhone sales were taking off in Japan, and most local firms didn’t know how to make a well-designed, user-centred app. After redesigning the website UI for Gunosy, a Japanese news service, Tsuchiya created an app for the firm, and both Gunosy and Goodpatch grew.

In 2013, he met Boris Jitsukata, who had a background in both business and design, and was working on a master’s degree in media design at Keio University. Jitsukata joined Goodpatch as a working student, and this relationship became the catalyst for taking Tsuchiya’s mission to Europe.

“I learned that Tsuchiya-san wanted to build this company with offices and multicultural teams around the world, and I knew that I could help a lot with that,” says Jitsukata, who today is the firm’s director and executive officer. “In 2015, we decided to open a studio in Berlin.”

Now with a third office in Munich, Goodpatch is proving the power of design to Japanese and European businesses, from startups to multinationals, by helping them with their design needs — then watching those businesses grow.

Good products
With more than 200 employees, both designers and engineers, and an additional 300 freelance creators in the Goodpatch ecosystem, today the firm builds digital products such as apps, websites, and AR/VR experiences. It also develops platforms and software for designers. Among its products are prototyping tools, a digital whiteboard solution, a platform for fully remote design teams, and a recruitment platform that matches companies with designers.

“For many people, design is just beautification, or colouring something, but it’s really a company’s biggest asset. Design is sensemaking,” says Jitsukata. “A designer might sound like someone who focuses only on appearances, but they actually need to be people who can partner with a business and lead it to success. They must create products and services that answer three questions: Why are we doing this?; Who is this for?; And how does it work?”

In addition to creating the popular Demae-can food delivery app, Goodpatch has worked for a wide range of clients, including Daimler, Suntory, HERE Technologies, Toyota, the healthtech firm Medley, and the fintech firm Money Forward.

“We have helped many startups with the design of their digital products while they were still small, and nine of them have gone on to launch an IPO after working with us,” says Tsuchiya.

“Maybe the biggest success was Paidy,” adds Jitsukata. “We worked with the firm nine years ago, and PayPal bought it last year for $2.7 billion.”

In 2020, Goodpatch became the first design firm in Japan to have an IPO. While it maintains the atmosphere and the agility of a startup, it is a listed company with a market cap of more than $125 million on 20 April.

“I thought that, if our firm has a stock price attached to its name, we would be able to prove to a much larger audience the value of design, and also inspire a lot of designers,” says Tsuchiya.

Tsuchiya reports that, following the IPO, Goodpatch’s recruiting and business development have benefitted. It would seem he is making progress on his mission.

“Design is sensemaking”

Good future
“At Goodpatch, there are a lot of dualities, which, I think, is something unique to our culture,” notes Jitsukata. “We’re a startup, but a listed company; Japanese as well as European; playful, but serious. We’re knowledgeable about design and business. We employ designers and engineers. We work with startup clients and big companies.”

It can also add to the list both consulting capabilities and design skills.

Jitsukata sees design as “a new kind of consulting” and calls Goodpatch a “design partner business”. The firm’s designers act as consultants by first helping clients to perceive value and challenges, then they discuss insights and create plans. But, like a design agency, Goodpatch can then implement those plans and design products. Its designers advise businesses in areas such as business launches, product strategy, and brand experiences — and always with the aim of seeing a culture of design take deep root at a client’s organisation.

“Before, we were focused on helping companies design digital products; now we’re helping them design digital businesses,” says Jitsukata. “Consulting firms usually give a great presentation, then afterwards, clients are left asking themselves, ‘What do we do now?’ Whereas, after a presentation, we get right into prototyping a strategy. We get our hands dirty, build something small, then learn from the market.”

One important way Goodpatch is helping firms to expand or even transform their businesses is through corporate venture building. It is a method well established in Europe where a company creates its own startup that is tasked with developing an idea into a final product, then finds the right market fit and scales up the business. Goodpatch is partnering with these corporations, as it is equipped to support these startup teams at every stage of the process.

“It may be very risky for a company that’s making an automotive part to bring out an app because it’s not related to their core business today — but maybe it’s their future business,” says Jitsukata. “I’ve realised that corporate venture building is not well established in Japan, so now I’m helping to build that foundation.”

One other duality is set to become a core part of Goodpatch’s business: people and planet. It has started helping companies to design and implement circular-economy business models.

“Planet-centred design is what our work as a design company is going to be about,” states Jitsukata. “Businesses have been very human-centred, very egocentric, and now they need to become eco-centric. Our clients are trying to figure this out, and we are designing a way for them to move in that direction.”

As Goodpatch helps firms reduce their environmental footprint, they are proving that design has the power to change the world. •