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Article January 30th, 2024

by Mikko Kaipio, Head of Product Design

Supercharge the influence of design to create better products

Design directly impacts a business’s ability to deliver products and services that customers not only need, but want. Design increases a product’s value for customers and, therefore, it impacts how much customers are willing to pay.  Investment in good design has been shown time and again to improve long-term business performance. For example, companies in the top quartile of McKinsey’s Design Index outperformed their competitor revenue growth by two times. Some of the most admired and fastest-growing companies in the world, from AirBnB to Apple, use design and creative techniques to develop their strategy as well as their products. 

Yet for many other companies, design has failed to deliver products that customers want and businesses need. Where do companies go wrong and how can design be supercharged as a competitive advantage?

This article is the final part of Nortal’s 3-part customer value series. If you missed out on the previous pieces, start with our summary on “How to build products that customers want and business need.” 

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Understanding the value of design

Sometimes the value of design is obvious, for example when refinements to factory processes result in dramatic improvements in production efficiency.

In other cases, despite the research and examples of successful design-led companies, the value of design can be hard to measure and communicate within organizations. When a new product line is successful, is that because the design was good or because the executive-set strategy was right? Often, we only see the value of design where there has been an absence of it – when millions are spent on features that customers don’t use (anything Metaverse),  when conversion crumbles when a new e-commerce platform is launched (M&S in UK), or when customers decide the new service isn’t worth paying the extra money for (CNN+). 

The first thing companies can do is to analyze successful and unsuccessful projects and to look at the role of design in each of them. There will be a correlation between success and good design practices. But what are these good design practices that can increase the chances of product success? 

Scope and budget for design

Good design can’t be done in a couple of days or on a shoestring budget. Too often design is an afterthought with a designer coming in at the end of a project to create an interface when all the design decisions have already been made by business or IT stakeholders. 

But equally, too much time for design can be dangerous, especially if it is not well directed. There is no better way to kill stakeholder trust in design than to spend too much time going in circles round the problem space or developing nicely creative, but ultimately unviable or infeasible ideas. 

Prioritizing design involvement at key project decision points is critical. As is understanding where it is worth investing more in design and where projects can take more shortcuts – for example reusing existing research, design patterns or successful business models from competitors. 

Asking for input from external design experts to plan the right level of budget, scope and involvement can be a good way of getting design right even if executive design skills do not yet exist internally. 

Make better product decisions with continuous discovery

A common ask in companies where design fails is to shorten a project’s discovery phase. It seems like a logical place to reduce time and money. Don’t fall into the trap! Doing this means going into the design, prototyping and delivery phases with insufficient knowledge and understanding of the customer and business needs, creating unnecessary risk. 

And discovery should not be confined to a single phase. All product stakeholders should promote a culture of making prioritization and design decisions based on data – data that will often come from discovery processes. These could be customer interviews, surveys, or digital analytics – ideally, a mixture of quantitative and qualitative data to understand not just what is happening (quantitative), but why it is happening (qualitative). 

Companies investing in efficient design processes and refining their existing products are reaping the benefits with continued growth and innovation while those that aren’t have been left behind. 

Integrating design into product teams

Sometimes designers will be siloed and left out of important, decision-making conversations with stakeholders or other departments related to the project. This lack of integration can hamper progress and lead to a lack of trust in the design team’s ability to deliver. If designers do not understand the company, its processes and the problem context well enough the solution created can be less valuable, leading to products that fail in the market costing the company money. Cross-functional involvement is key to creating effective collaboration and building interdepartmental trust. 

 

Designers also need to help themselves here. In recent decades the mantra of the ‘beginner’s mind’ was viewed as a way for designers to address industry-specific problems without any subject matter expertise. The idea is that the designer can ask better questions, have fewer biases, and challenge assumptions if they have not been immersed in the existing problem the same way business or IT stakeholders have. This mindset has contributed to a perception of designers as lacking commerciality, which leads to them being left out of important decision-making. Designers now need to default to having an ‘expert mind’ – one where they can bring unique insights about industry-specific customer problems, experiences and design patterns. This earns them a seat at the strategic decision-making table and helps ensure products are created that customers want and businesses need. 

Supercharging the impact of design in your organization

Good design requires its value to be understood, the budget and scope to be able to do it effectively, and the integration within project and product teams to have the right level of influence. But good design is also about curiosity, adaptation, and creativity. It can go way beyond getting features right, reducing re-work or improving conversion. Using design in the right way can unlock completely new possibilities and new value for organizations. Good design will: 

Ignite Curiosity

Have you ever considered the depth of insights that design research can uncover compared to relying solely on traditional statistical data? What if your understanding of user needs and competing products opened up new revenue opportunities and boosted loyalty?

Explore Adaptive Thinking

How open are you to the idea that the scope or roadmap of a project may need to evolve? What opportunities for greater value creation could arise if you embraced adaptability, enabling product teams to respond to new market insights and user feedback?

Encourage Creative Inquiry

When was the last time you thought about how different types of customers use your products or services in multiple ways and in different circumstances? Do they all get the same value – or is it different? The most powerful questions often start with ‘How might we…?’ or ‘What if…?’ Use these approaches to move from just solving functional needs to also engaging with your users on a deeper, emotional level. If you do this, the business value will follow.

By keeping these principles in mind, you can create an environment where design thrives, understanding deepens, and even in the face of unexpected challenges, product and organizational success can still be achieved. Design is a dynamic and iterative process, and the journey can often be just as rewarding as the destination. 

Learn more about Nortal’s Product & Customer Experience capability below.

Product and Experience

Mikko Kaipio

Head of Product Design

Mikko is Nortal's Global Head of Product Design where he helps our clients rethink their design capabilities. With nearly 20 years of experience, Mikko specializes in offering full spectrum design services across all industries to ensure increased business value.

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