Embracing a design-centric culture

Bronwyn van der Merwe, Australian Lead at Fjord
By Bronwyn van der Merwe, Australian Lead at Fjord | 7 January 2016
Bronwyn van der Merwe

A deep understanding of user needs and an ethos of shaping an organisation, service or product around that user drives the concept of design-led innovation. Through research, rapid prototyping, constant feedback and experimentation to deliver quick results, organisations that embrace a design-centric culture are able to better understand and respond to people’s contexts, needs, and desires which in turn drives increased engagement, advocacy and loyalty.

Growing enthusiasm to adapt a ‘design-centric culture’ has seen the values and philosophies of design guide the way people work and interact. This trend has grown in response to the complex omni-channel environment that surrounds us. In an ever-changing world of connected digital devices and transformative technologies, these new offerings have spurred a demand for personalisation, real-time services and the integration of interactions across multiple platforms.

Design thinking

Embedded within design culture is the notion of design thinking which dates back to the 1960s. Rather than solving a specific problem, design thinking encourages starting with a goal to better a future situation. The attributes of design thinking include:

1. Empathising with users by focusing on their experiences: design-centric organisations facilitate observational behaviour to better understand what consumers want and need.
2. A willingness to learn from failure: design thinking recognises that it is rare to get things right the first time round - teams learn from failure and mistakes.
3. Efforts to make ideas tangible: design thinkers use physical prototypes to communicate complex developments.
4. The preservation of ambiguity: being comfortable with not knowing the total answer to the problem that needs a solution.
5. Collaboration and co-creation with a diverse set of people who all have unique insights into the strategic challenges that a business is facing.

The application of human-centred design thinking by large organisations promotes a new kind of interaction and a more responsible, flexible organisational culture.

At play

While there is already a widespread view that design thinking is fundamental to business success, leading global companies are beginning to recognise the value of placing design at the centre of their enterprise. Industry examples include IBM’s $100 million investment towards building a large-scale design organisation, starting with the opening of a design studio in Austin, Texas. This approach is starting to take hold in governments as well with Initiatives such as Mindlab in Denmark, plus 18F, GDS and the Digital Transformation Office in the US, UK and Australia leading the way.

In health, the evidence of a shift to consumer centric design culture includes a recent collaboration between Fjord, Philips and Emotiv. The group worked to design a proof of concept that could give more independence to individuals suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a progressive neurodegenerative disease that causes patients to lose motor control and eventually become completely paralysed. The result is a wearable display and headset that allows users to control their environment through brain, eye and voice commands. In essence, the concept shows how individuals, who would otherwise be unable to turn on the television or request medical assistance, could enjoy a newfound sense of empowerment.

The development of this new software demonstrates the fundamental shifts required to embrace a design-led change:

1. Understand intent: when design is tailored to human intent, the problems arising from a one-size-fits-all approach are avoided. Although keeping in-tune with intent may not always be feasible, creating models that listen and respond can go a long way.
2. Give priority to participatory interactions over one-way brand communications: for example, the ability to participate and draw insights from customers’ social networks is becoming increasingly vital as the opinions of our peers increasingly influence buying preferences.
3. Move beyond single to connected touchpoints: as the world of devices becomes increasingly interconnected, channel investments should be thought of as interdependent and connected.
4. Measure the value a brand provides to customers by fluidity across channels: anticipate actions and motivations by knowing and supporting customer intent across the journey from one touchpoint to the next.

Continuous customer delight

In a design centric culture, user experience is everything. Enhancing these experiences is an important pillar as smart companies increasingly rethink their design strategy as a way to increase engagement. It’s about placing the same importance on the emotional resonance of a product or service experience as the solution it provides. As part of this rethinking process, businesses need to work to determine and monitor customer attributes by asking themselves several key questions: what do we know about the consumer’s intent and context? What tests should be put in place to gain feedback to continuously improve the design work? How can we connect experiences across channels seamlessly?

Organisations require a different mindset and will have to make fundamental changes in approach and culture to fully embrace a ‘design-centric culture’ and gain a competitive edge in today’s digital world.

By Bronwyn van der Merwe

Australian Lead for Fjord, part of Accenture Interactive.

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