Design orientated business

Design is more than aesthetics. Design is about everything from product building and service provision to pricing and customer experience. More corporate businesses are looking to shift their culture and to adopt a design ethos. They look at the likes of Airbnb and Square as examples of a design led company and culture.

So what does a design orientated business look like?

There are several behaviours that identify a business with a design ethos at its heart.

Customer intimacy — these businesses have the customer inside the organisation. They don’t survey customers once a quarter or every 6 months. They invite customers in regularly for conversations. They don’t hide and listen behind a one-way mirror. They adopt a conversation approach where customers including prospects are invited inside to discuss new product and service ideas.

These businesses would baulk at the idea of having an empty chair in the boardroom that represents the customer. Why empty? Why not have intelligent customers present?

Pilot, Pivot, Pilot, Pivot — design led businesses try new innovations regularly and often have several pilots running simultaneously. They constantly try out new ideas and embrace failure as a way of learning and maturing through a process of trial and error. They lose time through pilots but gain back time by not having to drag ideas through committee decision-making. They allow employees to use some of their time to take an idea and run with it. There is a deliberate culture of experimentation.

Experience design — these companies think about the end-to-end customer journey. They look for ways to add value in and take waste out. They start thinking about customer first, process second and technology third. They create journey maps but only ones that can be scribbled on, amended and added to over time. They hate polished journey maps dipped in PDF formaldehyde.

Upturn the Apple Cart –Design led businesses take more risks and look for possible opportunities where others would opt for making safer decisions. A good design ethos will enable a business to turn its business model in a different direction and make decisions previously considered an anathema a reality.

Open-source culture — searching for best practices used to be a nightmare. Clients would often ask how Apple managed retention or how JetBlue improved operational performance. The design led businesses of today put sharing good ideas to common use. The likes of Netflix and Airbnb share their internal thinking on their own blogs or on the likes of Medium. You can see how Airbnb is using Net Promoter Score (NPS) to gather customer feedback. These same businesses are more open to transferring existing or new ideas from other places whether within their competitive set or outside. They are more open to the philosophy or beg, borrow, steal and improve.

Comfortable with embarrassment — workshops in design led businesses are much more fun. Employees are more open to new ideas as ways of doing things. You can get creativity and innovation flurrying. If you’ve tried using Lego or Playdoh with a corporate insurance company try it at a design led business and watch the magic happen.

As a consultant I always try my best to connect with design thinking businesses and when I do it always proves to be quite a special assignment.