The business value of design

Like all design practices we work hard to help our clients see the business value of design, and of course, we are firm believers in the wider use of design. We’ve been reflecting on the recent study by McKinsey examining the business impact that design has had across several organisations — you can read it here.

The study raised several key insights about the value that design, or a design-led mindset, can bring to all kinds of businesses, not just design agencies or consultancies.


(1) Financial advantage

There is a demonstrable value to the financial performance of the companies who take design seriously and integrate it into the thinking, processes and culture of their organisation.

(2) Words with meaning

The word “experience” has become very fashionable in many different aspects of design and across lots of different sectors. As its popularity has grown, everything from an app to a piece of furniture is being treated as an experience. This is the worst of design grabbing a popular buzzword and using it to market anything.

We work a lot in transport and the drive to improve passenger experience sits in every organisation but the holistic nature of ‘experience’ isn’t so well-grasped.

The point of experience as a concept is that it views things through the eyes of the customer and therefore, by its very nature, breaks down those silos and distinctions between digital, physical and service. Experience is only transformed when it brings this holistic perspective to organisations and changes behaviour.

(3) Experience (internal & external)

Tthis perspective around experience then has value for organisations, as you can’t have that view on your customers if you don’t replicate it internally. We often forget that outside of the internal job titles and hats-we-wear, we are all consumers of varying experiences from day-to-day.

We have many conversations with our clients on using experience design to develop the overarching vision for the service, which aligns the design of many different elements. In over 40 years of projects, our most successful are those with clients that place internal value on service and experience design and can translate these principles through to their projects.

(4) Convincing the C-Suite

We all understand the value of the commitment of the c-suite to good design. Getting this to happen can be a challenge, unless fortunately they have had a previous good experience.

It can require them taking a leap of faith (something this study can certainly help with), but the key is getting them to learn something in the process. Helping them get into the shoes of customers is great but we also need to engage them in co-creation design work and demonstrate the value to them more directly.

Our experience is that so many people find design invigorating and should see it as something they can be involved in whatever their background. Bringing visibility of the customer experience as it is now to the C-Suite can be transformative. It allows them to truly see and hear first-hand their product or service experience through the customers’ lens.

(5) Behaviour brings value to data

Design is often seen as intuitive skills — the great designers are viewed as artists. But this often makes it a difficult discipline to interact with for businesses. As a result, organisations collect customer data for lots of other purposes, such as marketing, but fail to connect it correctly with design.

This report rightly points to the value of design research and qualitative methods as a supporter to traditional quantitative customer research. The insights into human behaviour that can come from both understating big data and then applying an empathetic lens, so called ‘thick-data’, are tremendously rich. This qualitative data can help businesses make design decisions on evidence rather than relying on the intuition of a designer or the data scientist.

(6) The power of the prototype

Agile is an easy word to say but hard to do in practice. The report makes a great case for the value of early, rapid and frequent prototyping. Getting organisations to change their ways and embrace this can be hard. The quid pro quo is for designers to come up with more imaginative ways to support this process. We’re doing various projects to help engineers and architects to prototype the experience for large infrastructure projects. Not usually a sector associated with rapid prototyping, using both immersive tech and analogue tools helps to open new ways of re-framing the problem and solution spaces.

Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplash

Design and design thinking have so much power to transform businesses and cultures, and it’s a skill that the UK possesses in abundance. The use of evidenced, user-centred thinking that uses the concept of experience to design holistically is a core belief at CCD. In these uncertain times, now would be a great time for UK businesses to be investing in what we do well and harness that creative power for the benefit of all.