Design Moves to the Forefront to Drive Business

Think Tank luminaries outline keys to design success.

by Adobe Communications Team

posted on 04-09-2018

With the rise of emerging technologies, such as augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and artificial intelligence (AI), brands will be required to shift to forward-thinking approaches to design.

Panelists at Think Tank by Adobe, produced in conjunction with the company’s annual digital marketing conference, Adobe Summit, said design-led thinking will alter the way brands craft customer experiences.

People don’t always understand what design-led thinking is.

“People often confuse design with the color of the drapes.”

“People often confuse design with the color of the drapes,” said Leland Maschmeyer, one of the panelists and Chobani’s chief creative officer. Design is the understanding and the implementation of desirable change, he said. “You understand the ideal state that people want. You understand the gap between that state and where you are now, and you figure out how to build the bridge between the two.”

Here’s what else the panelists had to say about the keys to design success.

Ensure a pro-design leader sits at the table

Because a design-led mindset requires a cultural shift, design leadership will be integral to business success, said Khoi Vinh, principal designer at Adobe. “In the next half-decade, it’ll be true that any successful company will have design leadership at the executive level, which isn’t really the case today,” he said.

To be effective, that leader will need to have control of time, money, and other resources to change processes, Leland added. “If you have someone in the c-suite who just has the title of CEO or [a] chief creative officer title, but they don’t lead a capability for implementing and marshaling resources to enact change, it will be a figurehead role rather than someone who’s really going to implement something.”

The design mindset should filter throughout your company

That design vision isn’t limited to a leader or a design department. “If you make a shift to be design-led, and it permeates into the DNA of your company, that becomes truly how you operate,” said Wendy Steinle, head of digital experience and web strategy at Adobe.

Penny Wilson, Hootsuite’s chief marketing officer, added that companies will have to help employees develop a design-led mindset. “I think that it’s probably going to be more incumbent on us to educate all of our employees on how to think design, like how to think customer obsession.”

Everyone who makes a decision in your company is a designer, added Malthe Sigurdsson, head of design at Stripe. “When you decide on your pricing strategy, you’re designing,” he said.

Embed the design mindset throughout your business processes

The design mentality should be embedded in every aspect of a company’s operations. Often it’s considered later in the process, when it should be incorporated from the beginning, Leland said.

Strategy is design. “Every decision you make in strategy eliminates a whole sphere of possibilities of how something could be brought to life,” he said, adding that strategy should be viewed as a hypothesis that needs to coincide with creative development.

“Regardless of whatever you’re trying to do, frameworks and formulas cannot reveal everything that you need to know about a situation or fully encompass the full map of possibility,” Leland said. “You have to develop creative objects and things to look at and touch and feel and play with on the side of it to unearth new ideas.”

Good design means listening to the customer

For business leaders who are used to approaching a project with an already developed plan, a design-led approach can require some re-thinking, said Jeriad Zoghby, global personalization lead & southwest agency lead, Accenture Interactive.

The idea of meeting with a client without a formulated plan can initially cause stress, but “part of it is to teach them why you do design-led thinking and the value of it, so they can start to make that pivot,” he said.

That pivot means not starting a project with preconceived ideas. “Too often you miss out on design-led thinking efforts because, instead of understanding the ‘what,’ we’ve already jumped to the ‘how,’ and we go right into doing it, and you miss out on fantastic opportunities if you can separate the two and do it right,” Jeriad said.

Pivoting also means being flexible when it comes to understanding your customers, said Cecilia Farooqi, digital design lead at Equinox Fitness.

“As a designer, I think we’ve always created these user personas to design to, and now it’s about balancing that user persona, that you as a brand defined, with the actual real users coming from data,” she said. “So, if you develop your own persona of who you want your audience to be, you balance that with who your audience actually is currently.”

Good design also involves being proactive

But listening to customers is only one part of the equation, businesses still need to use their expertise to recognize their customers’ underlying needs, panelists said.

“It’s really important to sit in the middle of what are my business objectives, what do my customers need, and be aware of the surrounding context — your market, your competitors, [your] history — and you design with knowledge in the middle of that,” Wendy said.

Kelly Soligon, general manager of digital stores for Microsoft, said there’s a tipping point of including your customer, but also not sacrificing your brand and your design principles. What this means is that brands must strike the right balance between meeting customer needs and authentically holding on to their brand promise and brand mission.

The future of design-led thinking

The panelists said it’s important to look at design-led thinking as one part of an interdisciplinary process that can solve business problems and bring something innovative to the market.

It’s a mistake to view design thinking versus agile, versus growth hacking, or other protocols, Leland said. “It’s really important to understand how those things plug into each other and how design thinking ends with something that leans into agile and that then feeds into the next thing. Each of these solves one sliver of the total process of creating something remarkable in the world.”

At the same time, companies shouldn’t think that design-led thinking is infallible. The process is flexible and sometimes ambiguous, but that can lead to more creativity and learnings that improve the process, and, ultimately, the product.

“I think, digitally, 80 percent of everything you do won’t work in the way you think it’s going to. Leaders should be enabled to deal with that reality — not accepting failure, but being able to understand what went wrong and having the agility to change directions,” said Giles Richardson, vice president of digital journeys at T-Mobile.

And embracing that philosophy could transform the way companies function. In the very near future, the panelists said, design will be recognized as a vital component of every business.

“Design has to be woven through everything that you do,” Penny said, “and we need to empower everyone to have that capability.”

Visit the Think Tank by Adobe page to watch the full discussion, and follow what’s being said on social with #AdobeTT.

Topics: Adobe Summit

Products: Experience Cloud