Design Thinking As A Business Strategy

Design Thinking As A Business Strategy
Design is a continuous process, applied not just throughout a project’s lifecycle, but embedded into a company culture.

Executives make decisions every day, but they’re not always making these decisions with a UX and design-focused mindset. However, implementing design-focused thinking is exactly what the best companies are doing to gain a competitive edge. Incorporating UX and design will automatically led to better decisions. If you miss the big picture experience, you can often find yourself struggling to succeed.

Some cautionary tales:

It’s always best to provide real-world examples of the importance of design: the CIO of a large organization embarked on a three-year journey to completely build a new system for customer service representatives. After the system was complete, this CIO noticed his reps were still using spiral bound notebooks while on calls instead of the new system, and they weren’t listening to the script the company was trying to enforce, essentially proving the three-year journey was a bust. Had the CIO understood the needs of his users by observing them and speaking with them, and kept UX and design in mind from the start, this costly mistake could have been avoided.

Another example of the importance of design (or lack thereof) was in late 2011 when Ron Johnson, credited with the successful Apple Store, was hired as CEO of the J.C. Penney. Johnson soon, and publically, left J.C. Penney after 17 months. What went wrong? The design changes Johnson implemented did not speak to J.C. Penney’s core customers. He instituted a ban on discounts and introduced an innovative shopping experience instead of savings. It was a great concept, but for J.C. Penney customers, the thrill of the discount was the experience. Taking that away for a “cooler” design resulted in failure, and the retailer has since struggled to regain its footing.

Good design can save and make you money, but how do you apply design to your strategic thinking? Here are a few key takeaways to prevent the above stories from becoming your own:

Know your users and involve them in the process

Your user base is one of the most important parts – if not the most important part – of the design process. Per the examples above, as a result of not fully knowing their user’s needs, both large organizations took massive financial hits and had to conduct a substantial redesign to create something that worked. In order to make a product or design people want to use, it is critical to speak with those who will be using your product. If you don’t know what their needs are, how can you design a product that works for them?

Simply setting aside the time to think about what it is you are trying to achieve and centering on the customer as the end user of a design is something many companies do not think enough of, and it can cost them. Not all companies can afford to limp along for years because of design mistakes, such as J.C. Penney.

In 2009, Kaiser Permanente came up with the 22 key experiences for a “Total Health Journey:” primary moments of a patient’s care when going through their healthcare system. They implemented design thinking when looking at everything, from conducting traditional stakeholder interviews about care facilities, to studying how people reacted to the color of carpets in their offices. Through this process, they determined key user experiences and found specific, visual ways to improve them, dramatically improving UX. Understand your users, and you’ll reap the benefits.

Design is continuous

Every designer is familiar with the frustrating question of, “Why can’t you just fix this one thing about the design?” This question is often brought up too late in the process to be of value. The problem here is that design is not a thing to be applied like a performance tune-up. Design is a continuous process, applied not just throughout a project’s lifecycle, but embedded into a company culture.

Design needs to be thought about from an idea’s inception. When creating a new product, you need to ensure the team working on that project has a design/UX expert. That person needs to be part of the core team, not an add-on during the final stages. For many companies this might mean an investment, but what it also means is that during every step of the development process, your team will be able to seek insight from someone that understands how to make the product the best it can be for users. Investing early in design means you are able to reap bigger rewards, rather than rush to fix things.

Don’t fall into the copycat trap

Another aspect mistakenly applied to design is “make our product look like X.” Whether it’s a competitor or just an innovative brand, in most cases the design you like has nothing to do with your own business or goals, it’s just a cool thing you want to emulate. While there is nothing inherently wrong with that because we all find inspiration from many sources, its crucial to ensure that the design you want is right for your business.

Consider what happened to J.C. Penney when they hired Ron Johnson. They wanted a cool design like Apple, but that’s not what their customer base wanted. Before embarking on any design-related projects, your core strengths need to be identified and remain the driver of how you design and execute on your offerings to your customers.

Design is one of the most important aspects of bringing an idea to life. At the end of the day, it’s about your customers and how they enjoy using your product. Be yourself with a good design, and you will have much a happier customer.


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