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When I first entered the design world my friends and peers didn’t quite know what my career path would look like or what it would entail. Honestly, who can blame them? The term “design” is used in so many ways; it’s understandable that it could be confusing and ambiguous.
As time went on, I found people often started to describe design as the process of “making things look pretty.” While this wasn’t necessarily wrong — especially if you have a top-notch design team — it wasn’t the full truth either.
Luckily, in today’s world, I think we’ve come a long way. Many organizations understand that designers aren’t simply skilled in making things look more attractive but experienced in creating engaging solutions tailored to users. This means fewer designers are being brought in at the last minute to clean up the way something looks.
While a decrease in the tendency to bring the design team in at the eleventh hour is great, we still see many organizations confused about how early to bring design strategy into the process. The answer is: at the beginning. Now, I know what you might be thinking — strategy sessions tend to be overcrowded as it is, so do you need to invite even more people to the party? Let me explain why you should be saying yes.
According to The New Design Frontier Report by Invision, leading companies are using design to drive efficiency, profit, and position. In fact, nearly three-quarters of companies say they have improved customer satisfaction and usability through design.
The truth of the matter is design brings a unique lens to strategy. There is a constant need to embrace the full user experience — that includes knowing how to break down barriers between physical and digital environments. Companies need to push the boundaries between products and services and merge them into integrated experiences.
Designers solve these types of challenges daily because they are focused more than ever on user-centric design. This means there is a deeper level of understanding and focus on the users and their needs in each phase of the design process. Which, in turn, results in design systems and practices tailored to the customer’s journey.
The more an organization embraces and integrates these design practices (especially early on in the process), the more positive business outcomes it sees when it comes to product, position, and profit. But it’s important to state that the integration doesn’t happen overnight. It’s enabled by planning, coordination, and supporting systems — another reason why it is critical to involve design thinking upfront.
Now, let me introduce the even bigger point to all this. Bringing design into the picture early on is only the beginning. Companies truly need to appreciate what typically lies only within the realm of designers — the user viewpoint. But this doesn’t simply mean the solution is to bring a designer to every meeting.
The head of design for Airbnb, Alex Schleifer, works to try to figure out how to expand its design culture so that everyone working at Airbnb, not just the designers, are thinking about the user viewpoint. Because leading companies understand the value in making user-centric design everyone’s responsibility, not a siloed function.
By expanding the insight into the user experience to a wide variety of employees and departments the results are a more in-depth development of strategies and solutions to the customer’s specific needs and expectations. Which in turn not only results in higher customer satisfaction but creates an environment that encourages learning, testing, and iterating with users.
The ultimate benefit of creating these types of environments aren’t only well-integrated, customer-focused solutions but it creates practices that boost the odds of creating breakthrough products and services while simultaneously reducing the risk of big, costly misses.
This focus is more like human science than hard science. Humans are constantly changing and can be unpredictable, emotional, and messy. Which means there is no hard and fast formula for figuring out a process to solve for the customer’s expectation.
But that’s okay. We’ve found that you don’t necessarily need a formula you just have to approach it from a different angle. Over time we’ve seen that design thinking helps provide that alternative avenue by understanding the context and culture users live in to develop genuine empathy, and testing and iterating solutions with customers you will come to develop principles and methods that find the best solutions.
We’ve found that people who are honest when answering questions concerning their user base tend to gain traction more quickly in regards to understanding what the user experience should look like and how they can solve their customer's needs.
Some of those questions may include:
We have found that the more an organization can focus its goals on customer success and invest in strategies, solutions, and ideas tailored to their end users, the greater the impact. That means if design thinking can start to be involved in every stage of the process, the impact on revenue and valuation will be significant.
Want to know more about the business value of design? We’ve got you covered. McKinsey & Company created a report on this subject, and we wrote an easy-to-digest summary. Check out our recap of the McKinsey Report on the Business Value of Design.
Interested in learning more about design thinking and how it can impact your company? We’re here to help! Take a look at our services or start a conversation to see how your brand experience can be taken to the next level.