In Search of Digital: Multi-Speed Design

By Patrick Newbery, CSO Method/CDO GlobalLogic

If your company started doing business after the wave of Web 2.0 crested, it’s likely that it has a culture and mindset that views technology through the lens of revenue-growth and customer engagement. If your business has been around a bit longer, there’s a good chance your view on technology reflects a culture and mindset of process efficiency and cost reduction.

Seeing the Big Picture
Software is about driving the value-chain and engaging customers

A big challenge for many older businesses will be reacting to changing technology: shifting time and money away from maintenance and incremental evolution of legacy systems, towards more flexible architectures, faster release cycles, and better use of data. Forrester analyst John McCarthy advocates that one important driver for companies undergoing digital transformation is that the “CEO and the board need to drive holistic transformation that includes fostering a customer-first mindset.”

Moreover, having a customer-first mindset also means that design is now at the table playing a more important role, with the mandate of translating the goals of customer-first from thought to action. To this end, many businesses, and the technology service companies they work with, have been acquiring design talent. But having agency-level design capabilities isn’t enough. To fully use technology to engage customers and grow value requires a multi-speed approach to design.

Design versus Multi-Speed Design

User experience (UX) design is a discipline that has been gaining a primary role in how technology gets turned into value for customers. There’s a joke told by people who have worked closely with UX designers. It goes something like this:

Q: How many UX designers does it take to change a light bulb?

A: Why does it have to be a light bulb?

The joke resonates because many designers and especially UX designers want to challenge the premise that they inherit when engaging in a project. They know that in many cases a better outcome will arise by challenging the premise (especially if the premise is flawed).

But sometimes, the light bulb simply needs to be changed so people are not left in the dark. Why might it be important to just change the light bulb?

Perhaps the light bulb needs to be changed so the people in the room can see, including the carpenters who have arrived and are going to install a window. Soon, the room will no longer solely rely on the light bulb for illumination. But this window won’t stay an ordinary window. Eventually, the double-paned glass will be replaced with a transparent solar panel and it will generate electricity that will be used to power lights (eventually efficient LEDs) when the external light coming through the window is not enough.

Or perhaps the light bulb needs to be changed just so that people can take a good look around the room and have a discussion about how a window and natural lighting might change the approach to illuminating the room in the future.

The act of changing the light bulb is not going to initiate a long-term plan by itself. Knowing the a limitations of just changing the bulb, YET knowing when and how to change the bulbs efficiently, AND enacting a long-term strategy that’s better than replacing light bulbs, is analogous to using multi-speed design as a way of looking at a problem.

Simply changing the light bulb is analogous to using design as a final step in a process; it’s single speed design.

Multi-speed Design: Maturity over Methodology

Design Thinking, best-practices, Lean UX, Agile, usability testing — all are ways of working. They are part of the “how” of design. They can help business execute and evolve design more efficiently. But they are not substitutes for the “what” and “why” of design: a broader customer experience strategy, supporting the business goals and guided by the brand.

By themselves these processes don’t deliver brand differentiation and relevance, new forms of value for customers, or increased quality of the overall customer experience. These processes are tactics that work well when loosely coupled with an overall customer experience strategy, based on a high-level of design maturity.

Think of design maturity as being the collective experience of using a coordinated approach to design, where design affects:

· Appearances: what things look like

· Behavior: how things work, what they do, how they respond

· Meaning: relevance, how customers relate to and the value of a product, service or experience

Design maturity is a measure of the institutional capability (i.e. culture and mindset) to focus the role and tools of design.

There are 4 stages of design maturity; each stage builds on the previous:

· Basic: Design as a signifier of quality

Seeing design as a necessary step in the finish of a product or service to make it acceptable, fit for the market

· Enlightened: Design as core of a unique brand identity

Seeing design as a quality that can offer an advantage and create differentiation

· Centered: Design as a strategic asset

Developing, applying and managing design as a system to provide coherency and quality for the customer experience, across all touch points and stages of the customer relationship

· Advanced: Design as a core process for growth

Using design to help shape business models, inform innovation, define products and services, strengthen customer relationships, and grow customer engagement.

Design Maturity
Businesses exist on a spectrum of design maturity: a measure of the institutional to focus the role and tools of design

Multi-speed Design in Practice

Few companies can claim that as a collective, they have developed to an Advanced stage of design maturity. Most are challenged to reach the Centered stage. It is extremely hard to do without commitment from the top executives, and many companies haven’t had to pay as much attention to the holistic customer experience in the past. But this is changing.

As technology enables a shift towards service-based revenue, success comes from keeping the customer engaged (and paying), not just through a one-time conversion. At the same time, value propositions need to evolve in order for brands to maintain differentiation and keep new competitors from stealing market share. And the value of service experience becomes a higher-ranking criteria for customers, even in markets that have traditionally been product focused (for instance, the user experience of the in-car systems is rapidly becoming a key differentiator, challenging vehicle performance and form-factor design for consumer’s choice in the automotive industry).

This means that businesses must have the ability to continuously examine and evolve overall strategies to remain relevant; design, deploy, and evolve their offerings; make sure that the customer experience across all stages and touchpoints is building stronger relationships in order to use engagement to facilitate growth.

There are 3 levels where design should be playing a role:

1. Helping a business/brand respond to disruption of business models, blurred market boundaries and the rise in strength of consumer preferences

2. Helping to increase the effectiveness of the overall customer experience in order to create greater customer engagement and build stronger customer relationships based on value through brand relevance and differentiation

3. Helping individual product or service experiences create value for customers in a manner that is coherent and consistent with the overall business and brand goals for customer engagement.

The skills and focus for each of these levels will be different, but they are also interconnected. The modern brand is a living, dynamic entity. As software becomes the day-to-day brand experience, brands change more effectively at the customer experience level than through brand strategy exercises and guidelines revisions. At the same time a sea of rapid product and service execution without the guidance of a common goal can quickly become a costly exercise in brand dilution.

Does this mean that everyone now needs to be equally adept at thinking, planning and implementing for business, design, and technology? No, but it does suggest that as businesses become digital they need to rethink what roles design should be playing, how and where it is being coordinated, and how it helps to them transform their business towards a customer-centric, software-driven value chain.

What do you think? How is your company using design to create value and customer engagement?



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Method is a global strategic design and engineering consultancy. We use design and technology to solve big challenges for businesses, people, and the planet.