The Future of Business is Design
Written by Patrick Newbery
Designers have always deserved a seat at the planning table. We have an important message: Don’t treat design as the last, final stage in the process; it limits what design can do.
But now that we are at the table, we have to deal with the broader challenges: competing priorities, different world views, and multiple, seeming valid ideas about what to do and how to do it.
What is actually needed is a framework for helping all sides work through complex situations when it’s not always clear what forward should look like.
Design matters. Business has not missed this point, although some have had to learn it the hard way. Design mediates utility, usability, desirability, and maintainability. All are important aspects of creating a satisfying product or service experience.
Businesses rely on design to increase the quality of experiences. Yet both business and design often evaluate their work from a myopic perspective: does it live up to what we had in mind when we started? The true context in which the solution will be measured — the continuum of the customer’s relationship with the business — is often not considered.
This is a big mistake for both business and design. This context is where the most important criteria play out, and this is the simple decision by the customer (conscious or not): “Will I continue this relationship?”
This customer/business relationship occurs against a backdrop of constant change, and the pace is accelerating. In all likelihood, tomorrow’s technology will be in market before the future value of today’s technology is exhausted. This raises some interesting questions: How should business and design handle this kind of change? What’s the correct approach for designing a product that has never existed? What criteria should be used to determine great design?
What business and design need is to redefine how they collaborate by making sure that it is based on a shared perspective: what creates value for real customers, in real contexts, in the face of real change. That’s what Experience Design is all about.
What is Experience Design?
We define Experience Design as the recognition that for any business there are four attributes that are all integrally related:
- The Brand: What you stand for, why your customers care about what you do
- The value provided through your products and services
- The quality of all the interactions a customer has with you (the business)
- The future opportunities to deliver value to customers
The dynamics of this relationship changes over time, but the objective must be for ongoing customer engagement. Experience Design is a post-disciplinary approach, one that integrates brand relevance and a focus on engagement in order to sustain the business/customer relationship. It is inclusive of all the design disciplines and methodologies which focus on addressing the requirements and behaviors of real people at the forefront during the design process, creating value for the human experience, accelerating time to market, etc.
We need a perspective more than a checklist
While the Experience Design perspective provides a good foundation for business and design to collaborate, it doesn’t provide the answers to questions in advance. It’s a multi-purpose tool, and part of a tool’s value and effectiveness lies in people understanding what it can do, why to use it, and how best to use it:
1. Businesses are rarely organized for delivering great end-to-end experiences
Businesses are generally structured for operational efficiency. Exposing this structure to customers is not a good strategy. It can result in gaps, inconsistencies, contradictions, and redundancies that create a fragmented experience. In most cases buying the best design services or hiring the talent in-house is done to address needs at the resource level, but it’s not a systemic solution. Getting the entire business to see the interrelationship of brand, product/service and customer relationship makes it more likely that the right design talent can be used to address needs correctly, even if the responsibilities cut across business functions and divisions.
2. Brand is what you do, not just what you say
As a business you have a brand whether you actively manage it or not. Your brand is an asset that can both appreciate and depreciate, depending on how it is used. Figuring out how to “be true” to the brand means that it must be defined, used, and managed in a holistic way. Experience Design provides a way to integrate all the different constituents concerned with the meaning of the brand, including the customer.
3. Design will only take you where you let it
When design is seen simply as a stage in a process, it will inherit all of the decisions made prior to design starting. If these decisions are based on assumptions or lack of adequate information, the result is a set of criteria that can significantly undercut design’s ability to improve things. At the same time, if the designer’s focus is too narrow, important needs and considerations that should be addressed are left out.
This is where Experience Design comes in. It provides tools for assembling and accounting for a variety of inputs including business, customer and brand needs, production constraints, support requirements and more, helping cross-functional teams understand and prioritize information. When both business and design work from an Experience Design perspective it makes it easier to understand the implications of different design options that at the surface level may seem arbitrary or inconsequential.
4. Business needs engagement, not just innovation
It costs more to win a new customer than it does to keep an existing customer. Product and service strategies need to address the creation and delivery of ongoing value for customers and lay the stepping-stones to new areas of value. Looking at how brand differentiation and customer context overlaps helps the brand identify and deliver this value, as well as keep customers more engaged. With the increase in the amount of data that can be captured and analyzed, having a way to help guide analysis and a clear path to manage the findings will separate the leaders from the followers.
5. The future will prove to be a lot like the past: non-linear
There are many examples of businesses that have been done in by change, especially technological change. In hindsight, it’s easy to see what they should have done. It’s much harder to look at the present and say which are the clear signals of change and which direction forward is the successful one.
At the same time, understanding your current business from an Experience Design perspective enables a platform for developing and managing a portfolio of options and innovation opportunities, and serving customers in a rapidly changing world:
- A better understanding of engaged customers will create a sense for what emerging needs are cropping up.
- Having a strong sense of what the brand is and how to make it real helps expand into new areas, and guide how new innovations can be made to “embody” the brand more effectively.
- A series of parallel efforts, with differing levels of investment, can be coherently managed.
Many design professionals will say that Experience Design is simply what doing good design is all about. Others may feel that their discipline is already delivering design solutions that integrate the issues outlined. Neither of these is an issue, as we feel that there is still a need to provide a common platform of understanding for both business and design: one that helps business see the world through a design lens, and one that helps design see the world through a business lens.
If you are interested in learning more on Method’s Experience Design perspective, or would like to get in touch with the author, Patrick Newbery, please send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org.