Often, when I think of design, I think of it on far too small of a scale. I’m aware of the immense impact that design can have on the world, but it’s easy for me to get caught up in my own little computer and the small-scale projects that I work on. Articles like this one, Building a Design-driven Culture, bring me back to the reality of design being a multi-faceted, important, and widespread profession.
It’s becoming more and more noticeable that customers prioritize the experience of buying and using a product over the performance of the product itself – something that a great deal of companies are beginning to take into account. For example, the company HP: through HP Instant Ink, they have shifted away from simple transactions (customers buying ink when they need it), and toward putting into place an ongoing service relationship. HP knows when it’s printers will run out of ink, and they preemptively ship more, which in turn saves customers time and effort. Making the lives of customers easier not only makes them more productive, but also generates loyalty and happiness.
The authors of this article firmly believe that it’s not enough to simply sell a product or service – companies must truly engage with their customers. To do so, they outlined four elements of design-driven culture.
First: The company must truly understand the customer. Design-driven companies seek to go beyond just what customers want, to truly uncovering why the want it. They’ll conduct one-on-one interviews, shopper-shadowing excercises, and customer decision journeys to understand what motivates them, what bothers them, and where there are opportunities for creating excellent experiences. A great example given for this was Sephora: marketing leaders at this company were observing millennials shopping on their site, and they noticed that before buying, the customers would go to YouTube to look for videos of other people using the product. This prompted Sephora to create its own videos to fill this apparent need. This part goes back to the human-centered design we’ve been talking about for a few weeks now. Knowing the customer – on a deep level – is so important for both simple human happiness and customer loyalty. It also ensures that the company, its products, and its customer experiences are going to be as close as possible to what the customer needs and wants.
Second: Bringing empathy to the organization. An extremely important part of running a design-driven company is being certain that the people with the correct skill sets are in the right places. Which, to the authors of the article, means beginning with ensuring a chief design lead has a seat at the table where strategic decisions are made. They must bring the customer’s point of view to business decisions, translate business goals into customer-friendly initiatives, and build a culture in which employees think about how what they do affects customers. A designer must be a core part of any product or service development so that they can push this design-driven process for individual customer experiences.
Third: Designing in real time. Developing a customer journey requires input from many places, and the authors of this article believe in an approach that combines design, business strategy, and technology as the core decision makers. By working together, these groups can directly understand the value that design can deliver, and make sure that customer experience is at the forefront of their minds. I loved this part, because I think it’s so important for people in other professions to appreciate the power of design. Many people barely even know what it is, outside of making things look pretty, so involving a wide variety of people in the design process (and putting a designer in a place of authority), is a great way to start.
Fourth: Acting quickly. Good design is fast, and it depends on rapid prototyping, frequent iteration, and adjustments based on real customer feedback. In a design-driven culture, companies aren’t afraid to release a product that’s not completely perfect – meaning that the product goes to market, the company learns from customer feedback, incorporates it, and the releases the next version. Instagram, for example, was launched by releasing a product, learning which features were most popular, and then relaunching a stripped down version. This section was what surprised me the most. I’m a perfectionist, and since most of my projects have been fairly small scale, I have had the opportunity to continue nitpicking until I’m happy with the final result. However, while reading this article, I realized that in the future (and even now, somewhat), that might not be the best way to approach things. For a school assignment, it’s okay, but once I get out into the “real world” I can’t spend as much time on a single project as I have been able to during my studies. I have a dangerous mindset, at times, that once something is “done” (once I’m happy with it), it’s done and it doesn’t get touched again. However, what space does that give me for feedback and improvement? Not much. Something to work on.
Reading articles like this one remind me that design, what I want to do for the rest of my life, is impactful. It makes the world not only a more beautiful place, but also a better place, with happy people and wonderful experiences.
Killian, Jennifer, Hugo Sarrazin, and Hyo Yeon. Building a Design-driven Culture. McKinsey & Company, Sept. 2015. Web. 21 Apr. 2017.