How Design Identifies and Navigates Obstacles for Businesses

By Paul Cloutier, Principal — Method San Francisco

By now, it’s more than apparent than ever that good design is much more than the way things look. But even the most systematic design can only get you so far when developed in a vacuum. Design creatives can’t be an afterthought towards the end of a project — their involvement is paramount from the outset. When you need to lay things out, every decision you make has an impact on the success of your product or service, which is why leading, modern companies use design to make better, more informed decisions.

At Method, we’ve always seen design as the systematic approach to solving problems and aligning customer needs with business intent.

There are three key facets that we address on every project, big or small: the Why, the What, and the How. The “Why” helps us understand a company’s reason for being and its philosophy, allowing us to design the right things. The “What” is making good things, rooted in craftsmanship and quality. The “How” is about sustainability by understanding the organizational maturity and inherent restrictions of our clients so that we don’t deliver a design that they can’t build or support.

This three-pronged approach to design has helped us immeasureably to achieve better products. The goal is to avoid “hand-offs.” It’s in the hand-off dynamic that the idea loses fidelity, or worse, is dismissed by a stakeholder not involved in the creative process.

When we get the right people involved at the right time, we can solve each goal — innovatively and effectively.

A good example was for a large cable TV provider that we worked with a few years ago. The client loved the design and felt that it would help them make their business more competitive, but they didn’t think the idea would pass muster with legal. Normally, this is where we would have to simplify the design and make it less innovative, reducing the value of our work. But in this instance, we asked if we could have a meeting with the lawyers, which apparently no one ever thought to do. Once we showed the design to the legal team and they expressed their concerns, we were able to creatively work around the hurdles, making small revisions to the design that allowed us to preserve our more innovative approach. It seems obvious to invite the right people to the table, but this is the number one killer of good ideas: during hand-offs where decisions happen outside of the creative and strategic process. Many companies come to us in the midst of transformation, often when their organizations are not ready to implement our designs on their own. In many cases, we’ll deliver a design and then it only gets partly built or implemented, or even repurposed by a not quite prepared organization.

We also recently worked on a video streaming platform for the Latin-American market, the client had a huge vision, but were struggling to support and maintain their existing, more modest initiatives. Designing a new, even more ambitious system was only going to overload their already taxed team, likely resulting in a failed project or worse, a sense that we created something unsustainable or unrealistic. Before starting the design process, we audited their workflows, looked at how they made decisions, mapped out their tools, and even looked at their IT constraints to help their organization operate more like a modern software company. Through research groundwork, we were able to create something much more progressive and interesting than we ever could have had we jumped straight into design. They didn’t have ways to evaluate what good design even was before we collaborated.

In San Francisco and London, we are helping one of the world’s largest tool companies — to shift their mindset and business offering from being strictly a commodity vendor of tools to a platform that helps contractors and architects collaborate while recommending the right tools for the job. This reframing means that rather than designing yet another e-commerce template, were were able to explore products that help build long-term relationships with customers while meaningfully serving their needs.

Clear is a biometric security company that many airports are using to expedite security checks. They approached the New York team to design their kiosks and develop their identity. With the project, we were able to use brand as a tool to define their central values and then realign the whole experience to deliver on the promise of their brand proposition in real ways. The brand strategy was a means to the end of improving the overall customer experience.

As a designer, there are few things I hate more than designing the wrong thing or working on something that isn’t going to solve the stated problem.

More and more, we find ourselves helping the client first, figuring out what they need to do, and then strategically plotting out ways to realize the plan.

These are just a few of the projects where we’ve helped companies strategically reframe their goals and then designed accordingly. Whether using brand to help companies understand why they are doing anything at all, using interaction and service design to achieve utility, or elementally helping companies ask the right questions to make better decisions, these approaches have been part of our DNA since day one.

So for your next project, ask yourself, what is the biggest threat to it not seeing a viable launch? What impediments conflict with your definition of success? Strategic design thinking and savvy execution are powerful answers.

If you would like to discuss this topic further with Paul, please email us at inquiries@method.com.