5 tips to integrate strategic design thinking in your company culture

Last checked and updated on July 6, 2022

When it comes to design, if you were asked to describe your company’s decision making processes, how likely would you be to use the word strategic? 

Because if design isn’t a process that lies at the heart of everything you do – and perhaps mostly importantly isn’t tied in to your company’s strategy – then you might well be missing a trick. 

What is strategic design thinking?

How would you go about defining strategic design thinking? 

Management consultants Stratego consider design thinking to be “going beyond the limits of the logic of “product” to evolve and become the logic of user experience.”


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They see design thinking as “a specific approach to Innovation, implemented by companies to solve problems and/or seize new opportunities; it is not a method which focuses solely on product/service aesthetics, structure, and design but which aims at building a journey, a customer-oriented experience.”

So design thinking is much less about what a product looks or feels like and a lot more about how it meets the expectations of the end user.  

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What’s the goal of design thinking? 

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Stratego sum up the end goal of design thinking as identifying an innovative solution to a problem or opportunity which satisfies 3 core criteria:

Desirability 

Think about what clients might want but lack, walking in their shoes and immerse yourself in their daily routine instead of trying to convince them a product or service is “good”

Feasibility

Identify themes and models, through observation and field activities, trying to build relationships and deepening insights to check how consumers react, adjusting the product, its price, or positioning

Viability

Define the winning solution, in terms of sustainability and profitability, identifying any activity or resource the company will actually have to produce to communicate, distribute and deliver this solution.

Why is it important to integrate strategic design thinking in your company culture?

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Asked to think about a design orientated company, you might well come up with Apple. But what makes Apple a design orientated company – rather than just another company that produces well designed products? 

The secret lies in the fact that design runs through the heart of everything Apple does. It’s embedded in its culture and evidenced at every level, from its executive down. In short, it’s strategic.

So how else can you identify a brand that employs design thinking? 

Econsultancy highlights accommodation provider Airbnb, where “each project team…incudes a project manager whose explicit role is to represent the customer, ”noting that “by shifting their design focus to put user experience first, Airbnb has created one of the most navigable, informative and enjoyable platforms to use, whether accessed from a web browser or the app.”

Econsultancy also picks out Ikea as an example of a design led brand. Sure, it’s the go to place for affordable flat pack furniture but that’s not all. In recent years, it’s changed its business model from large out of town warehouses to new city centre store formats, with “tech supporting multichannel shopping that Ikea has quietly been perfecting.”

Ikea has also perfected its offering of space saving solutions, with Econsultancy pointing out that “the brand has risen to the challenge in response to the increasing need for smart storage solutions in a world where space in the home is limited and the rental economy is booming.” Yet again, it’s another brand for whom design is at the heart of its strategic development. 

How to create a design orientated company

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As far back as 2014, Bridget van Kralingen, senior vice president of IBM Global Business Services, declared:

“There’s no longer any real distinction between business strategy and the design of the user experience.”

She added “The last best experience that anyone has anywhere, becomes the minimum expectation for the experience they want everywhere, and the quality of that experience is entirely dependent on the use of individualized information.”

So how does this relate to your company? And how can you go about changing culture to ensure that you become design orientated in everything you do? 

Management consultants McKinsey & Company believe that the key to building a design-driven culture is empathy: “Using empathy to put customers, clients, and end users at the center of the problem-solving equation is the foundation of design thinking.”

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1. Stop trying to make things look ‘nice’

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Good design considers not only what’s most likely to delight the consumer but importantly what will get the product used for its given purpose, whether it’s an app or a kettle. Therefore don’t focus on arbitrary decisions such as colours, fonts and visual styles at the expense of an overall strategy based on your target audience. 

2. Start talking about design as a process, not a commodity

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Design is a process, not a commodity. Of course, a well-designed armchair might well be a “lovely piece of design” but if it looks beautiful at the expense of functioning as a chair, then it’s failed to deliver on the brief.

Workplace design should be seen as an important process of decision making and problem solving.

3. Base your design decisions on user data

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Really understand your customer. Not just what they want but why they want it. Look at the user data. And then look around it. McKinsey says “Plot out customer decision journeys to understand exactly what motivates people, what bothers them, and where there are opportunities for creating delightful experiences.”

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4. Incorporate design into every part of your operational processes

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This requires a culture shift but it’s important to make design a repeating part of your operations. Reviewing data and re-thinking existing products and services is just as important as the initial design of something new.

5. Act quickly 

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McKinsey note that “In a design-driven culture, companies are unafraid to release a product that is not totally perfect.” 

It is therefore far more preferable to go to market with a minimally viable product and learn from customer feedback, which can then be incorporated into the next build and an updated version released as soon as possible. 

Strategic design thinking results in more loyal customers 

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We know that, as consumers, customers are increasingly demanding that services and products both meet their needs as well as delight them with rewarding experiences. 

It’s no easy task. But get it right and you will be rewarded with higher spending and passionate brand loyalty.

Looking for advice on integrating strategic design thinking in your company culture?

Is your company’s current approach to design reactive? Distracted by the asthetics of what ‘looks good’ rather than what works and what meets your clients’ needs?  

Could your company benefit from a more strategic design approach that is anchored in what best benefits the user experience?

UX design lies at the heart of everything we do at Creative.onl. If you are looking for support on integrating strategic design thinking into your company culture, then get in touch with Creative.onl

We are a small and friendly team with proven expertise in: 

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