Book a demo
Our Work
Why Us

What it Means to be a Design-Led Organization

Cassandra King
Cassandra King
7 min read

What do Google, Apple and Airbnb all have in common? Well, apart from being the most recognizable companies in the world, all three are design-led organizations.

What does it mean to be a design-led company, exactly? Unfortunately, the answer is a little complicated, but at Ad Designpalooza, we chatted with design leader Kristian Andersen and got his expert insights.

Design is just a tool we use to harness creativity and creativity is the raw input of innovation. Hard stop, period.
Kristian Andersen

Kristian is the co-founder and partner at High Alpha, a venture studio that conceives, launches and scales enterprise technology companies. He also founded Studio Science, a leading design and innovation consultancy that he sold in 2019.

Kristian knows a thing or two about design-led organizations, so keep reading to learn more about what it takes to become a design-driven company and how to tell if you’re in one.

What is a design-led company?

Design-led organizations understand that design isn’t just about aesthetics or creating new products and services. Design is also not limited to a particular department or phase in the development process. According to Kristian, design-led organizations have an “intentionality around how experiences are designed” in all, or at least most, aspects of the business.

Design-led companies are also human-centered. They’re relentlessly focused on solving customer problems and giving their users what they really need, which helps them create better products, services and internal processes.

There’s a strong business case for fostering a design-driven culture within your organization. According to a McKinsey report, design-led companies increase their revenues and shareholder returns at nearly twice the rate of their industry counterparts.

If you’re not sure if your company fits the bill, Kristian offered the following guiding questions:

  1. Do you feel design intentionally touches all aspects of your business (e.g., your facilities, sales process, internal events, etc.)?
  2. Is your organization good at storytelling?

“Experiences are fundamentally about storytelling, which means that design is fundamentally about storytelling,” explains Kristian.

Take a company like Airbnb, for instance. When they first launched, their story was simple. Airbnb was a platform where people could find homestays for vacation rentals, and their website reflected that. Case in point: this 2011 version of the homepage, where the hero image of a group of people sharing a meal and the clear booking prompts tell visitors what this platform is all about.

Today, Airbnb has evolved beyond homestays – adding new features like experiences and with the pandemic, even online experiences. And as their story has evolved, so has their design. Now, their website features an illustration hero image featuring a man, child and dog exploring a forest, which evokes broader themes like adventure, curiosity, and playfulness.

How do you create a design thinking culture?

Building a design-driven culture takes time, but there are some essential elements that all design-led organizations share.

Design-led companies:

  • Have a strong company vision that clearly outlines the purpose and value of design in providing the best possible customer experiences.
  • Understand that design is everyone’s job. Every employee should be encouraged to contribute their insights if they help to deliver a better customer experience.
  • Have deep empathy for their customers. Start with your customer and work backwards. Every employee should be encouraged to learn as much as possible about their users’ conditions, situations and needs.
  • Have processes in place to measure and drive design performance with the same rigor as revenue and costs.
  • Recognize that a product launch isn’t the end of the design process. Design-centric companies are constantly learning, testing and iterating with their users.

Kristian also strongly advocates for companies to have some type of ‘head of design’ role that oversees all design in the company, from brand communications to marketing, events, and digital product and service design. This role can help ensure that all design work adheres to an overarching design vision and language and maintain consistency across all channels and departments.

What are some examples of design-led organizations?

Did you know that some of the most successful companies in the world are design-driven brands? Here’s a list of a few popular design-driven companies and their design philosophies.

  • Google. Google seeks to design experiences that inspire and enlighten their users. As stated on their about page: “​​Since the beginning, we’ve focused on providing the best user experience possible. Whether we’re designing a new Internet browser or a new tweak to the look of the homepage, we take great care to ensure that they will ultimately serve you, rather than our own internal goal or bottom line.”
  • Apple. According to Mark Kawano, a former Senior Designer at Apple, “Everybody there is thinking about UX and design, not just the designers. And that’s what makes everything about the product so much better… much more than any individual designer or design team.”
  • Airbnb. As stated on the Airbnb Design about page, “Design influences everything we do at Airbnb. Behind the scenes, it shapes our work, how we build new tools and the ways that we share and interact with our global community.” At Airbnb, they believe that “design is contextual, inspiration comes in many forms, and that collaboration with our community is the key to well-designed experiences.” They also think that “the richest growth and learning happens when our curiosity extends further than the community closest in proximity to us.”
  • ASOS. As CEO Nick Beighton once said, “If we focus on product and customer experience, and if we move with velocity, we can continue to win. It is core to our DNA and it is core to our customer base. We will continue to move as quickly as we can to keep ahead.”

Video: How to Become a Design-Led Organization

Kristian Andersen, Partner at High Alpha, knows a thing or two about design-led organizations. Hear about what he thinks it takes to become a design-led org, and how to tell if you're in one!

Watch on-demand

The value of design-led thinking

Design thinking is more than a process, department or role. It’s a philosophy that can (and arguably should) drive every action inside a company. It’s also centred around one critical stakeholder: your customer. Don’t assume that you know what they think or feel. Instead, gather insights, observe them, talk to them and use those insights to build products, experiences, and processes that will make their lives better.

If you’re looking for strategic design support for your next marketing campaign, you should check out our Campaigns and Concepts service. Through this offer, we’ll work closely with your team to develop creative concepts that will drive growth for your brand and serve your customers needs and goals. From large 360 campaigns to bespoke content solutions, our creative team can handle it all and is always available to support you.

Published: Aug 26, 2021
Cassandra King
Written by
Cassandra King

Cassandra King is Superside's Sr. Content Marketing Manager. She’s a road trip aficionado, advocate for all things glitter, and can usually be found with a camera (or snacks) in hand. Find her on IG @casssandra.king.

Join our community of 5,000 strong and receive the best design and marketing content, biweekly

No charge. Unsubscribe anytime

Continue reading

iOS 13 Update Advertising on Facebook

How Apple’s iOS 14 Update Changes Advertising on Facebook

Hint: great creative is will be the name of the game. The Apple iOS 14 update doesn't need to be all doom and gloom for advertisers—we've got tips for success!

Branding package outline and tips

What’s Included in a Branding Package & What It Costs?

Whether you're refreshing an existing brand or starting from scratch, you need a branding package. We cover what a brand package includes, plus premium add-ons.

How to write a design brief

How to Write a Design Brief (+ Free Template)

Learn about what to include in a design brief, along with some tips on how to properly write one. Or, just access our free design brief template!

Hassle-free design starts here

Superside is an always-on design company that makes design frictionless and hassle-free for marketing, sales, creative and product design teams. This means top quality designs at lightning fast speeds, improved velocity and go-to-market and completely secure and confidential file sharing and collaboration.

In this one-on-one live demo, you’ll see:
- How Superside works
- A first look at the Superside platform
- The most suitable subscription plan for you

Get ready to join 140+ scale-ups and enterprise teams doing good design at scale with Superside’s dedicated team model.
Want to start a design project instead? No problem, get started here

Book a call with us

First name
Last name
Company name
Company size
Phone number
We need your phone number for the demo. We'll never use it for any other purposes.
Book a demo



Book a demo
Superside is a revolutionary way for businesses to get good design done at scale.
Trusted by 400+ fast-growing ambitious brands, Superside makes design hassle-free for marketing and creative teams, by combining the top 1% of creative talent from around the world with purpose-built technology and the rigour of design ops. Since inception Superside has been a fully distributed company, with almost 500 team members working across 57 countries and 19 timezones.
Privacy Policy