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How Building a Design Culture can Elevate Your Digital Product

How Building a Design Culture can Elevate Your Digital Product

  • Product Design /
  • Product Team Culture /

Creating a world-class customer experience for your digital products goes beyond understanding the team you need to build. It also goes beyond knowing the tools you’ll need to acquire. Fundamentally, it is imperative that your business has a sage understanding and respect for design. In order to create successful digital products, it is absolutely crucial to cultivate a design culture.

There are a plethora of definitions for design. This article is not intended to serve as a glossary of terms or cover design principles beyond the digital product realm. Rather, this article will guide you and your team in successfully creating and embracing a philosophy for design that is unique to you and your organization. 

In doing so, you’ll ensure every digital product experience you create is tailored to your customers as an intrinsic extension of both your brand and your business. Here are five of the best practices to help achieve this philosophy and build a culture of design.

1. Start Thinking About Your Digital Product Proactively vs. Reactively

We will start with reframing your thinking about problem solving and how to face the challenges your business has with ensuring continued customer satisfaction. This can often be a significant hurdle to surmount, because it is human nature to be reactive. We all want to be the hero and save the day by solving problems in the moment, whether or not the intention is genuinely altruistic. 

However, the problem with reactive thinking is that it is profoundly antithetical to the core philosophy of design. It does not promote a thoughtful and deliberate approach to solutions. It is a “knee-jerk” response that is most often based on personal bias or past experiences. At best, this may create a temporary band-aid for getting through a particular problem or challenge. The worst case scenario, which is most common with reactionary practices is it can require expensive re-work down the line.

Conversely, proactivity is the process of seeking and accruing insights and key evidence in advance of problems or challenges. It cultivates a deeper cognizance and awareness of what may be encountered when ensuring exceptional customer experiences. By far, the best medium that tackles this head-on is a service blueprint. In a nutshell, a service blueprint reveals the chronological actions your customers take. Simultaneously, a service blueprint delineates the corresponding business operations with each action. Ultimately, it illuminates what your business or organization needs to continue delivering for an optimal customer experience.

Once completed, a service blueprint clearly identifies the business process that directly drives your customer experience and vice versa. From there it becomes far easier to identify friction points and challenges that you may encounter. You can begin ideating on solutions to solve them more thoughtfully and more effectively.

2. Embrace Empathy

Now that you’re better prepared to circumvent reactionary thinking, the next practice toward building a culture of design is by thinking differently about key audiences to your business; both internal and external. The rationale for this is simple. Digital products are created for humans by humans. It behooves us to understand what motivates our audiences, what pains them, what they consider in their periphery as influences, as well as why they do what they do on a day-to-day basis, and how that makes them feel.

Most of us plow through our days focused on our own tasks and objectives, which makes it easy to lose sight of what others may be going through. Empathy mapping is an easy tool to assist you and your team to connect deeper with both internal and external audiences. Distilled to its essence, it is an activity that takes no more than a few hours. The most extraordinary benefit of empathy mapping is the epiphanies your team will realize.

Customer journey mapping is another method we employ at Emerge to better understand the specific needs of customers. Different from service blueprinting, customer journey mapping focuses on customer and buyer stages rather than including the entire business operation. It maps the progression from consideration, activation, utilization, to completion. During these stages there are pain points to consider and emotions to be honored. Knowing your customer better will help you create a better customer experience.

3. Define Your Design Strategy

The first few methods to create better customer experiences will surely give you an advantage before you begin to assemble or advise your design team. You’ll be well equipped to solve the problems or challenges that emerge. Before going too much further however, it’s time to sit down and hash out your organization’s design strategy. Design strategy creates true direction and trajectory for design within your organization as opposed to falling prey to trends, fads, and personal bias. 

Design is not just about look and feel. Design is also about experience and intention. To design is to examine, analyze, process, ideate, and create effective solutions to existing problems and challenges. For digital products to evolve through the creative process, there must be an understanding of how your particular business or organization is affected by your digital products, and how problems will be solved through design.

There’s more to design strategy than this crucial component alone. Having a more comprehensive understanding of how design is employed within your organization sets everyone up for success from the beginning. In tandem with combating reactive thinking, design strategy establishes a base of accountability for how you service your customers and how your brand is represented through that interaction and experience. A great customer experience is also a great brand experience. 

4. Understanding Agile vs Waterfall in Design

Perhaps the biggest misnomer in the world of design is the term “agile.” Many product owners and managers bandy about this term without an understanding of how design is critically affected, i.e. it’s not just about designing faster. Design has to be performed smarter as well.

Without key measures in place to ensure design success, an agile design is not any more helpful than a waterfall design. There is potential to facilitate even more problems than you might imagine when key measures are not delineated.

When properly planned and accounted for, an agile approach to design can increase productivity and accelerate the entire design process from start to finish by a factor of ten or more. It just has to be set up intentionally. The best way to implement an agile approach is to establish and employ a design system. Currently, this is an area of explosive and competitive growth as design tools are rapidly evolving and changing to suit the needs of design teams handling digital products. However, the principles of ensuring its success are timeless.

Most notably, having a design system helps with this agile process since it stores commonly utilized patterns of design that anyone in the business can dive into at any moment to quickly iterate solutions or understand what is available to help create solutions. These patterns are not just specific to visual components alone. Design systems can also house wireframe templates, brand assets, and many more valuable elements.

The less your team has to start from scratch every time they work toward a solution, the easier it will be to create consistency and allow for a more nimble and agile way of working. Less time and resources are wasted relegating time to seeking approvals and moving in a straight line of a waterfall. . 

5. Make Design Fun and Break Down the Attitudes

Within any business or organization, core values define how we work with each other and with customers. These values vary depending on the focus and intention of a brand. Some brands are known to be fun, hip, and quirky. Others are serious, manner-of-fact, and precise. Whatever the case may be, design is and has always been a human process. Design invites exploration, play, and a willingness to fail and roll with the punches just as much as celebrating victories and wins. To that end, the most significant challenge any organization faces is to recognize and allow for this to take place.

It does not negate that some aspects of the design process can be made more autonomous over time (as with design systems), but to reach this point requires creativity to flourish and ideas to flow freely. The best way we can support this is by encouraging design to be fun, allowing for all ideas to be shared, regardless of whether or not they are optimal. Oftentimes, the best ideas can be a phoenix rising from the ashes of terrible ideas. Knowing there is safety and freedom to investigate, explore, and ideate must be supported. 

This will help eliminate the attitudes. Just because someone feels an idea is bad doesn’t make it so. In fact, there are many ways to obtain more information and discover how your customer feels. One excellent way to do this is through moderated or unmoderated user testing. Asking your customers directly what they think removes bias or perception your team may have about particular ideas or solutions.

A Culture of Design Is Just Good Business Practice

As mentioned previously, every business and organization is unique. The value proposition of brands, businesses, and organizations is essential in distinguishing them. But also, those who champion the process and embrace the culture of design are opening the doors to a more creative and more successful approach to creating a world-class customer experience.

It is, after all, the reason your business operates, right? To service customers and ensure they have the best experience they can have?

By employing these measures, you are well on your way to fostering a design culture that will allow for significant growth of your business over time; one that lets your customers know that you care not just about them, but how you service them and the people who critically make it happen. If your business or organization needs help exploring more about how to establish a design culture or would like further consultation, Emerge is always here to help.