“It’s all about the experience!” The value of design for companies, or, how to create massive value for all.

Design is everywhere at the moment! Fast Company has their annual Design Issue, Bloomberg have their annual Design Week and even the grand old patriarch of the business journalism world – Harvard Business Review – recently released an issue focused on Design Thinking. Everyone is talking about design so it must be hot? Right? Yes – it is. But the questions we need to ask are: why is it hot; and what opportunities does design provide companies in the tech industry? To put it simply – it’s all about experience.

You don’t need to go much further than the release the other month by John Maeda – Design Partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers – of his 2016 #DesignInTech Report to see how hot design is. There’s some great data in there showing how important design is increasingly becoming to great businesses – particularly in the tech industry.

His report highlights the positive impact of design on a range of metrics from profitability through to customer and employee retention. These are all important things if you’re starting, growing, or running a company. One of the most impressive stats that Maeda shared was that 36% of the top 25 funded startups in 2015 were co-founded by designers. He also pointed out that companies with design co-founders are on the increase, from older firms like Lynda.com (recently acquired by LinkedIn) through to newer players on the block like AirBnB and Pinterest, just to name a few. He also showed that another of the big indicators of how hot design is at the moment is the sheer number of design agencies being acquired by other companies in order to access their design expertise. Over 20 design firms got acquired last year alone. Recent acquisitions include Gecko by Google, Hot Studio and Teehan & Lax by Facebook, and Jet Cooper by Shopify. In that respect it’s definitely a good time to be in design.

But the value of design isn’t just in the Start Up world. Recent research has shown that design-driven companies – many of these publicly listed – outperformed the S&P 500 by 219 percent over the last 10 years. Those are good results by anyone’s reckoning. So what’s the key to all of this then? What is it that makes design so special? There are two key things that design brings to firms:

  • a space to dream of ‘what-could-be’, and
  • an opportunity to transform those ideas into concrete experiences. 

In this respect, at it’s most basic:

design is about visualizing, crafting, making, and imagining the future

Or, put another way, design is an intentional way of working and making that facilitates people connecting, understanding, creating and sharing.

Design then is not necessarily just about just making things pretty, although well-designed artifacts (products and services) do have an aesthetic element to them. Design also isn’t just a tool that you bring out to fix something or make your company more innovative (which is the problem with a lot of the recent literature on design thinking that’s emerged in the last few years!). Instead, design is a way of thinking and acting in the world.

Design – at its best then – is about openness to possibility and what that experience means for groups and individuals: consumers and employees both. As just one example, looking at the concept of product-value alone, 89% of companies surveyed by Gartner thought that customer experience would be their primary basis for competition by 2016. So, what does this mean for companies? What can they do to tap into the power of design? Two things:

  • Create space for the designers currently working in your businesses to bring their ‘way of thinking’ to the table, and
  • Be intentional in the type of experiences you want to create through your business – at all levels (from consumers through to employees) and at all scales (from the micro- through to the macro-).

These two aspects of value are inter-related – ironically enough, via the concept of relationships.

Everything in the business world is about relationships – relationships with consumers, relationships with suppliers, relationships with employees, relationships with colleagues, and so on. The key mediator in all of these relationships is how they are experienced by their participants, and – this is the important part – all of these experiences can be designed. That is, they can be crafted to create a specific type of experience.

In this respect, here are three examples of how designers are creating value for firms in the tech industry:

  • Interaction design is increasing the usability of digital products through better interaction experiences for users,
  • Service design is increasing the service experience of consumers (and increasingly employees too), and
  • Strategic design is increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of your organizations’ operations in the world through improving the experience of all participants through the design of better systems.

Combined, the work of designers is helping create many types of value, all based on improving experiences. In their work, and in their interactions with others in their companies and beyond, designers are helping provide a unique and nuanced way of seeing ‘what-could-be’ and helping to provide their organizations with the tools to make this a reality through the design of experiences.

In this respect design can help your organization come up with ways to deal with a range of some of the most ‘wicked problems’ confronting organizations – from implementing effective diversity measures, adopting more agile and resilient types of organizational form, effectively integrating analog & digital solutions in the workplace, and producing transformative experiences and products for consumers. At base, these issues are all about experiences.

Design is hot for a reason. Design and associated ways of thinking and acting in the world are providing opportunities for huge amounts of value to be created by companies around the world as we move towards an economy of experiences. After all, that’s why so many companies are buying in as much design talent as they can. And, that’s the reason why IBM, as just one example, are in the process of investing $100 million on augmenting and developing their own internal design capabilities. So why wait? Reach out to a designer near you. You probably know some already – you might even employ some! Start intentionally designing the future you want as an organization by crafting better experiences for everyone.

Images courtesy of: Pixabay