How a Design Strategy & Culture Drives The Best Results

Amrita Mathur
Former VP of Marketing
Published20 Nov, 2019
How a Design Strategy & Culture Drives The Best Results

Simply trying to sell a product or service to customers is never enough. In order to be successful and memorable, companies need to truly engage with their customers — they’re selling an experience, not just a product or service. Customers usually conflate the product itself with their experience using it. If the product works well in the end but is difficult to get up and running, customers apply that difficulty to their overall evaluation of the product.

As 21st century companies seek to transform how they do business, enhancing customer experience has become a key factor in gaining a competitive advantage. The way a customer experiences a product relies heavily on whether it was designed with the consumer in mind. Design strategy relies on using insights into the way customers think and act while using the product. In order to create an engaging product that users enjoy using and returning to often, designers must know how to find out what customers want and expertly craft their product based on these findings.

The foundation of developing the optimal customer experience is to cultivate a robust design strategy and culture within organizations. For business leaders who desire more than just the status quo and for those actively engaged in offering new products and services that are sticky with customers, the integration of design strategy into the company’s culture is indispensable.

What is a Design Strategy and Culture?

A company culture that revolves around design strategy onboards designers at the beginning of product development. It is a culture that recognizes in a constantly changing world, agile design-focused members must be deeply integrated into the product engineering team to support the constant innovation required for staying relevant.

A design strategy-focused culture is at first committed to discovering the core problem customers face and then dedicated to using that insight to design or adjust the objectives of the company’s strategy and the product it brings to market. It is a culture that embraces the customer’s perspective as a design element. It humbly couples the customers’ ability to identify design imperfections (via feedback) with the designer’s agility to quickly investigate, identify and act on such data. In this way, the culture continually supports improvement of both the product and the customer experience. The main elements of a design strategy-focused culture skew heavily toward the consumer and include understanding, empathy, alignment with corporate strategy and agility.

Four Elements of a Design Strategy-Focused Culture

McKinsey has identified four elements of a design strategy-focused culture, which must be in place for any company that highly values its customers’ experience.

1. Understanding the customer

Companies often position themselves as customer-centered without really demonstrating this in practice. Executive-level business decisions are made based on metrics that exclude the customer in all but the most superficial ways — such as with respect to the company’s bottom line. Companies might also shallowly pursue insights into customers’ needs — stopping at the knowledge of what customers want without pressing further to an understanding of why they want it. Engaged customers — those who demonstrate loyalty to the brand — feel that their needs are understood and taken into account by those who manufacture and distribute products for their purchase. In other words, engaged customers are those who feel that the company understands them and has designed a positive experience for them.

2. Bringing a customer-focused empathetic perspective

Digging into the “why” of customers’ needs requires an empathic perspective, which is a crucial aspect of designing for customers’ interactions with a product. Empathy goes beyond data. It uses data only as a starting point to investigate reasons and motives behind customers’ choices. Take Sephora, for instance, a company that has leveraged the data from their customers’ browsing habits to recognize that they navigated to YouTube to watch videos about the beauty products they considered buying. In response, Sephora began providing similar videos — and established a dedicated YouTube channel — as part of the buying experience to fulfill that particular customer need. With 1.25 million subscribers, Sephora’s tutorials are a well-designed element of the company’s online shopping experience that has become a major hit.

3. Design strategy aligns with business strategies and objectives

The company’s design focus should be apparent at the decision making and strategic development levels. This means that a company that fails to have designers represented at the executive level cannot truly consider itself design focused. The company’s overarching strategy should not merely be developed or drafted but it too should be designed. This approach will ensure that design becomes an ethos that infuses all aspects of day-to-day functioning within the company’s various departments.

4. Acting quickly

With design incorporated at the helm, the company will be better equipped to respond to adjustments in customer needs. Design is a continually evolving process with built-in agility. The process continuously gathers feedback and incorporates it into redesigns that accelerate the product’s improvement and keeps customers satisfied.

Designing from Product to Experience

Given that customers rarely separate their opinion of a product from their experience of it, collaborations between designers, managers and engineers are a crucial aspect of bringing a product to market because they facilitate connections with customers. Designing a customer’s product experience requires an integrated model that combines design and engineering with the company’s strategy and uses technology to forge immediate connections with customers.

Designers, engineers, and strategists work together to identify customers’ needs and to create products and experiences that meets these needs. Software-generated data, and other feedback mechanisms, enable customers to experience the product and then to give feedback on that experience. In a culture with design strategy at its center, a company’s designers welcome feedback and are given the freedom to incorporate it into the design to accelerate the process of product innovation and improvement.

The following are some questions for business leaders and decision makers to consider when incorporating design strategy as a driver for organizational change:

  • Do you have a senior design leader with real authority?
    Consider whether a designer holds a position at the decision-making level within the company, as this impacts design’s ability to drive your culture. It could be the difference between a public image that seems corporate-focused and one that is customer-centered.
  • Are you continuously reviewing your metrics?
    The customer’s input should get noticed in a way that enables the company to act on it to continually make the product better. Keep an eye on how customers are interacting with the product to see where improvements can be made.
  • Are designers working with the right people in the organization?
    This is a question of whether designers have the ear of people who can take their suggestions and then make real change happen. Designers should not feel hamstrung by their subordinate positions and unable to speak up or act with initiative to design or propose changes to a product. Rather, there should be avenues already set up for these suggestions to be quickly converted to designs and implementations.
  • Do you really understand what motivates your customers?
    Identify whether your company really invests in empathetic practices by conducting surveys, truly analyzing and learning from the data they provide, and also by hiring designers whose purpose is to delve into the experience of customers and develop solutions that cater to their needs.
  • How can you speed up your processes?
    This asks whether design infiltrates every level of your organization so that feedback at the end-product level can be agilely transformed into new design ideas and then quickly conveyed up the ranks to decision-making levels. It addresses the question of whether designers are able to work closely with engineers so that products can be designed, delivered, redesigned and re-released quickly and easily.

Customers have every reason to expect to find products and services on the market that are designed to meet their needs. In the 21st century, designing with the customer in mind should be a matter of course. And it's not enough to just read a few design blogs around customer experience — you need to implement and test it.

Products and services that delight customers with unexpectedly captivating experiences don’t just happen – they must be designed. And in order for customers to experience delight at every level of engagement with your product, your company’s culture must be driven by design strategy. Companies that meet those needs are rewarded with fierce brand loyalty and higher spending, which translates into higher profit margins.

This kind of success happens only by design, and Superside’s world-renowned designers are eager to support you in transforming your culture into a design-driven one that attracts and retains customers. Book a call with us, and we will help.

Learn how to transform your company into a design-driven organization by downloading our free ebook: The Future of DesignOps, or reading the full designops guide here.

Amrita Mathur
Amrita MathurFormer VP of Marketing

Amrita is a veteran B2B SaaS marketer and the VP of Marketing at Superside. Besides preaching to everyone and their mother about how good execution is the ultimate differentiator for your company, she hosts our monthly Gather & Grow series featuring leaders from Adobe, Dropbox, HubSpot, Intuit, Shopify and more. Find her on LinkedIn and Twitter and say hi!

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