There’s something immensely powerful behind the design thinking process.
The design process allows us to consistently tackle unknowns and build something extremely successful out of it.
Some of the most thriving companies in the world realise that: design-led giants such as Apple, SAP, and Nike outperformed S&P 500 companies’ stock by 211%.
Their secret is quite simple: they applied design thinking principles to one of the most challenging environments in the world: business strategy.
What they ended up actually creating was design strategy.
Let’s cover what design strategy is, how to apply it to your business, and how design thinking principles can be used to outperform competition and directly enhance your bottom line.
Design strategy is a design thinking process applied to the challenges of implementing corporate strategy.
Ok, let’s break it down.
Every business has goals, and those goals are never simple, even when they seem so. For example if the goal is to increase sales by [X] percent, there’s never a single lever that you can pull and instantly get more sales.
But there are several levers you can pull: train your sales personnel, introduce better tech, make sure the sales personnel actually use the better tech, test new marketing channels, and so on.
So, in order to achieve your long-term business goals you need to plan what levers you’ll be pulling and how you’ll be pulling them. That’s corporate strategy.
As soon as you have a corporate strategy, everyone knows what to do and how to do it, right?
Only in theory. In reality, corporate strategy is difficult to execute because of two main challenges.
Challenge #1: Information asymmetry. Some people in your company will inevitably know more about certain aspects of your product than others.
Senior executives know more about how the company works as a whole, while customer support or usability specialists have in-depth knowledge of how clients interact with the product on a daily basis.
Developers know how the product works on the inside, but it’s the salespeople who know exactly why people buy it.
The problem is, the corporate strategy is usually defined by executives, but executed by employees.
And all of the parties above will have their own vision for how corporate strategy should be executed. So when you present a new product development plan or new sales approach, everyone will have their own perspective.
You’ll probably have a bunch of interdepartmental meetings trying to find the common truth and some compromises here and there. But this won’t change the fact that everyone will have their own truth anyway because of their unique experience with the product.
Challenge #2: Things change. No matter how well you outline your success, there will always be things that you can’t account for.
There was a time when MySpace was the largest social networking site in the world. Almost four years in a row, actually. Now it ranks as 157th.
There’s no doubt they had some kind of strategy. The problem is, the social network scene was changing so quickly that MySpace had to adapt their strategy, or become irrelevant. And we know how that played out.
Many companies would like to quickly adapt to the market disruptions and somehow make flexibility an integral part of a company’s long-term strategy. But it’s not that easy. Change too many things too often and you’ll have chaos.
So how do you make sure that information asymmetry and continuous market shifts will not affect the successful accomplishment of your long-term goals?
This is where the design thinking process can come into play.
When we apply the design thinking process to better communicate, create, and execute elements of corporate strategy, our products become more competitive and customer-friendly. At the same time, different departments will finally start speaking the same language: the language of user-centered design.
That’s what design strategy is all about.
Let’s talk about how it works.
There are five design thinking principles that constitute the design thinking process:
Each of these principles helps companies in a unique and powerful way to successfully implement business strategy, so let’s talk about each one of them separately.
Empathy is critical in design thinking. It allows us to get a better understanding of the problem by engaging and emphasizing with people who experience it.
We can use empathy in a business setting to unite everyone around customer pains and motivations. User-centered design becomes the glue that unites employees with various perspectives around a common perspective: the user’s perspective.
Through user research, the design department will unearth customer pains and motivations , which is something people from every department can relate to and use in their work.
Applying user-centered design when following business strategy not only solves the problem of information asymmetry, but also makes companies more competitive. From top to bottom, they start working directly with customer expectations in mind and instantly feel when there’s a need of change.
One of the consequences of information asymmetry is that everyone has their own definition of what a problem is. Here’s an extreme example:
Customer support has a problem with the overwhelming amount of tickets after release. Developers have a problem with the new feature not being used by users. Sales reps have a problem with low net promoter score (NPS) and email signups drops
It turns out, everyone had the same problem: customers don’t know how to use the app after the recent redesign.
Design process allows companies to clearly define the problems from the start from a user perspective, through the use of user personas, customer journey maps, and storyboards.
The better the problems are defined, the more effective the solutions will be.
That, in turn, allows companies to follow their business strategy more effectively because everyone will be solving the same problem.
Brainstorming basically tiesthe two previous stages together.
At this point, everyone is united around user pains and has a clear definition of the problem. Now business stakeholders can start offering their unique perspective to solving the same problem. No more chaos.
At this stage, stakeholders generate ideas that will be tested during later stages.
One of the most powerful things about design strategy is that it makes all the solutions visual.
It’s easy to get lost in the differing interpretations when various stakeholders discuss problems and solutions in a way that’s comfortable to them. Developers will show logs and forks, marketers will bring excel reports and CRM exports, and so on.
When the design process kicks in, various stakeholders will have wireframes, flow diagrams, and prototypes during the discussions. These deliverables make the discussion process much more practical and centered.
In addition to that, prototypes are easy to change. Which means that every time there’s a change in business strategy, all the visual deliverables used in communicating and executing it can be quickly changed accordingly without spawning additional chaos.
What if businesses could test certain decisions before commiting tens of thousands of dollars into implementing them? That’s something that design strategy can help with too.
User testing allows designers to test their assumptions and ideas before they get into final production. The very same approach could be applied to business decisions.
So far we’ve presented business decisions as visual prototypes that can be easily understood and worked with. Through iterative testing these prototypes can be repeatedly tested until the most effective version of a solution is developed with the maximum return on investment for the business.
It’s critical to mention that the design process is not straightforward: it can be adapted to the unique needs of your company or clients.
As an example, here’s a modified version of the design process that the Lucky Duck team uses a to deliver robust and market-ready applications or products for our strategic partners:
Our Design Process
The Future of Design Strategy
Experienced designers and product leads know that design was never about simply drawing a logo or making a cool app.
There’s always a bigger context, a better business problem, and a better solution that we can define and achieve through the design thinking process.
But design strategy takes what we can do to a truly spectacular level: using the design thinking process we can create better companies.
Hopefully, this article helped you understand how design strategy can help you continuously make better business decisions that directly benefit both your customers and your company.