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Starting your journey to becoming design led

How to drive a design led culture within your business

It’s well documented that design-led businesses develop better customer experiences which result in greater performances in growth, retention and revenue.

They outperform the FTSE 100 by 200%, in the UK 80% have grown into international markets when the average is 42% and they see a 32% higher revenue growth over a five year period.

In order to become design-led, businesses must lead with customer empathy where they’ll discover opportunities in the user journey. With the right leadership structure, support and tools, teams will have the foundation to implement design-led measures, which focus on creating meaningful experiences with the customer in mind.

“The reason that it [design led] matters for business is because it’s the single biggest competitive advantage that you can have, if your customers are loyal to you, because if you solve for their needs first, you’ll always win.”

Jennifer Kilian, digital vice president of McKinsey Digital Labs

We’ll walk you through the key areas that backed up by research have been proven to set design-led businesses apart from the rest.

It starts with leadership

To ensure design-led becomes part of company culture it has to be understood and supported by leadership. As McKinsey states in their report, The business value of design ‘companies…that performed the best financially understood that design is a top management issue’.

The most beneficial way to achieve this is to have design representation at a c-suite level. Designers are in a unique position as they’re constantly putting themselves in the customers shoes. They see the pain points across the user journey and are always looking for ways to improve. So enabling this perspective at a strategic level will see benefits as they champion the customer and ensure focus across the business.

“Design’s job is to help the company make sure that it’s always thinking about its long-term impact on people.”

Katie M. Dill, Vice President of Design, Lyft

Once established, metrics and accountability will help your design leadership become successful. The design metrics should compliment the business goals. Whether they be to improve customer experiences (NPS, usability scores), company operations (activation, churn) or increase revenue (sign ups), design should be able to link to business value but enable the flexibility to be creative.

Clarity of roles is also important to avoid clashing of responsibilities or territorial issues. What are the key priorities for the design leader? What metrics do they own vs support? How do they work effectively with other teams? Having leadership alignment on all of these will set everyone up for success.

Developing customer empathy

No matter the role, department or area of the business, every employee should be building a level of empathy for your customer. Who are your users? Why are they using your product? What are the biggest challenges they face? What matters to them?

This will lead to improvements in the way teams work with the customer in mind. Design and development will be focused around customer use cases, marketing more thoughtful in choosing the channels where your users can be found, and support more proactive when they know the customer needs them.

Here are some ideas to get started:

Building empathy never stops. Schedule a cadence of sessions and build customer exercises into your new starter onboarding. Your customers change and markets adapt with them so you must continue this work regularly so you don’t fall behind.

Embracing your user experience

Successful design led companies incorporate the full user experience into their view. Meaning they don’t focus on where their product currently begins and ends but how they can solve their customer’s problems and expand the experience of their offerings. Google maps tells you if you need to leave early for your appointment because of traffic, Monzo recognises your salary and will give you access to funds the day before payday and phones have now become our wallets. These are all the result of considering the complete user experience and innovating to meet your customers’ needs.

Start the exercise of journey mapping the pain points and moments of delight your customer is experiencing. Ask yourself, what is the problem they’re trying to solve when using your product? What other tools are they using? How to do work alongside those tools? If you’re a digital tool don’t exclude physical products, capture as many details as you can.

Using this approach will help you identify new user-focused opportunities that will stand you out above the rest.

Enabling your team to do their best work

Encouraging cross-functional collaboration, breaking down silos and integrating design within other teams has been shown to be valuable in nurturing a design culture. The responsibility to become design-led doesn’t solely sit with design but across all departments. And although the design team are key in applying design focus across the business, bringing together all teams will see the most impactful results.

Another factor is ensuring the right incentives and resources are in place for designers. Having design benefit programmes will help keep top talent and impact business results, but they mustn’t restrict creativity. If they have interest, they want to explore or want to connect with industry peers through speaking events and conferences, the freedom to do so will be appeal just as much as incentives.

Alongside this are the right tools and resources. Design covers a range of tools from design thinking, white-boarding, design, prototyping and user testing. McKinsey states a strong correlation of success with those who spend time on research and prototyping vs those who don’t.

This is where Marvel comes in! Built for growing teams, you can design, prototype, test and ship products at scale. Sync designs from Sketch, upload your own or create them in our design tool. Start with a free account to get started with your first project.

Training your team in design thinking

A key to being design-led is using design thinking methodology which solve problems using a human-centered approach. The stages of the process are things you probably already know and do. However, when pieced together as a framework, it can be incredibly effective in discovering solutions whilst always putting the end-user first.

It’s simple enough for everyone to partake in and will take you from idea generation, right the way through to sketching, creating and testing interactive prototypes using Marvel.

Let’s break down the stages:

  1. Empathise: Knowing the people you’re designing for, so you understand their needs better.
  2. Define: The big, meaty problem you want to solve for your business, customer or end-user
  3. Ideate: Brainstorming different solutions that might be useful to people
  4. Prototype: Turning ideas into realistic mockups that you can test (and where you can use Marvel!)
  5. Test: Sharing your prototypes and gaining invaluable feedback from the people that matter

To help more teams adopt this approach, we’ve put together a free Design Thinking Workshop Kit which will give you and your team a simple and reusable approach for running sessions using the basic principles of Design Thinking. Learn how to apply the stages and go from nurturing empathy, rapid idea generation, right the way through to sketching and creating interactive prototypes in sessions.

We believe that making tools and processes easier will democratise design and make it more accessible, leading to better ideas and faster innovation. Grab the kit to get started with a facilitator guide, workshop slides and presentation template!

Product Marketer at Marvel. Part-time true crime connoisseur. @ch_hall

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