Across the board, businesses with a design-led approach are outperforming their competitors. The stat has been popping up for some years now, and carries a ring of truth that’s worth investigating. Here’s what you need to know…

What does it mean to be design-led?

‘Design-led’ is a phrase that invites ambiguity, and definitions range from the very loose (a business that is strategic and ‘designs’ its approaches) to the very specific (a company where designers are in charge). One of the most helpful definitions we’ve found is from Wired, who sum up design-led businesses as being user-centric, open to feedback and iteration, and home to designers who have an understanding of the human contexts where their work will be used.

Adobe also dug deep into this question by commissioning an independent research project on the design-led phenomenon. The headline finding seems to be that what counts is the design of the experience, rather than the surface aesthetics. Design-led businesses understand the importance of creating a pleasing, efficient and user-led experience, especially in an online context.

Increased complexity demands better design

As customers (whether we’re talking B2B or B2C) we are faced with more complexity than ever before, but nowhere is the scenario more evident than in the world of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG).

Market saturation and product diversity is just the start of it. There’s an ever-widening range of channels to consider when we’re evaluating a potential purchase. There are multiple streams of data, such as product reviews and ratings, news stories, input from friends and colleagues and brand marketing to take into account when making purchase decisions. And even when we know what we want, there’s the process of deciding who to buy from, taking into account things like promotional discounts, loyalty rewards, availability of finance, the quality of aftercare and warranty or the attractiveness of a seller’s return policies.

It’s no wonder we’d rather buy from businesses who smooth the way for us and create faster and lower-effort experiences with expert design.

Mobile accentuates the challenge

Although retail hasn’t made the wholesale shift to m-commerce that some predicted in years past, online shopping is definitely a multi-channel experience and seems set to stay that way. The typical user journey trajectory involves moving between laptops, desktops, mobile devices and other IoT platforms while researching, considering and making a purchase. Design-led thinking allows savvy businesses to optimise that experience, making the many transitions seamless and allowing a user’s decisions and preferences to be maintained even when they switch devices.

Mobile in particular throws up some real design challenges, thanks to the extreme limitation on space, a tiny virtual keyboard and the tendency for multiple apps and notifications (not to mention the outside world) to interrupt a user’s journey.

The benefits of being design-led

By thinking carefully and explicitly about what makes up an experience – which can mean assigning creative teams or design professionals to the task – businesses can gain a significant advantage over the competition. Adobe’s results echo recent trends in the world of customer service, where there’s a growing consensus that a good quality customer experience isn’t just something to aspire to, but a differentiating factor that could be even more important than price or product by the year 2020.

It’s not a quick win, however. There’s significant investment required to design a process well, including recruitment of user testing subjects, gathering data and recommendations, and implementing changes to an initial design based on end-user feedback, so that the end result is truly robust and adapted to its purpose. It’s not compatible with last-minute decision making or a reactive, unstructured approach to design.

How can your business be more design-led?

  • Embed design principles in your culture – even among non-designers. An understanding of user-centric approaches and iterative development are a must.
  • Build in time to design well – view design time as investment, not cost, and empower designers to develop and test out different ideas and approaches.
  • Be prepared to iterate constantly – always be willing to evolve and adapt your processes, platforms and products according to the user feedback you receive

the tree is a recognised as a top design agency on DesignRush and as such are well poised to support with your design needs. Could your business use a fresh creative perspective? We’d love to chat to you.

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