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Hackernoon logoDesign: A Strategic Capability for Businesses by@benjamin-michel

Design: A Strategic Capability for Businesses

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@benjamin-michelBenjamin Michel

Tech and strategy consultant

This is a summary from my interview with Tim Bouckley. The conversation is apropos the evolution of design as a capability within the software field, and its role in traditional companies’ digital transformation.

We start by defining what we mean by design, this in a Software development context, and the takeaway here is that: “The meta-purpose of design is to think about the end-user, and do what’s best for them”. Within the broad category that we call design, there may be a lot of specialists (eg. user research, UX designer, UI designer), some of them more strategic, while others more tactical. Ultimately they will all focus on the end-user.

The meta-purpose of design is to think about the end-user, and do what’s best for them.

This heavy focus on the end-user can be seen in the ongoing trend (at least in tech) of human-centred design. This methodology can be re-applied project after project, however, due to the always-growing complexity of the problems tackled by product teams, this methodology has to be supported by an ever-increasing amount of domain knowledge. This leads to specialisations of designers alongside domains (eg. Finance, e-commerce, automotive).

Another added complexity to the field of design is about how much it has to integrate with technology and product. All this specialisation can easily lead to silos, and people have to actively work to align themselves with the rest of the teams. This tension is pulling people in both directions.

On the one hand we need people who can speak each other's languages, but we also need specialists in their fields.

Taking things further, the topic of digital transformation is something which often comes-up when talking about design - keeping to the context of established companies which are not digital-first. As businesses have seen competitors appear out of nowhere and take major market shares, the counter-attack is to analyse what makes those new products so different: tech, digital, design?

What we’re seeing is that the fast-moving disruptors are embracing human-centered design and quickly releasing products better suited to customer needs than established ones. Many traditional businesses try to replicate this process, but this often results in failure. Tim argues that the ideal way to proceed along this avenue is achieved by creating an entirely new entity (aka: a new company) and giving them the freedom to fully exploit the opportunities. This is key if you want the new initiative’s effort not to be hindered by legacy processes.

We care about digital transformation so much that we’re going to start a new business and give it all the support it needs.

All in all, everything is about change, and not only about the ability to change into a new structure, but to incorporate change as part of your culture. The idea of “digital transformation” has been used as a way to think about upgrading products and services onto a digital platform, it is being branded as the big change that companies will go through in order to become competitive and gain market shares. This is not a strategy, this is a reactive goal defined to appease shareholders. The real change is for organisations to shift from a tactical approach to a strategic approach.

Policies and actions are here to support the long term strategy, and hiring a Chief Design Officer (CDO) is a great displayal of a company’s intent to adopting a customer centric approach. Still these need to be accompanied by a continuous strategic oversight of the mission. For the design (and to the same extent tech and product) piece to be successful it needs to be embraced at the leadership level, the key element being: leadership needs a clear understanding of the long-term strategy.

Looking forward, understanding the distinction between design as a tactical capability versus a strategic one will play out. Companies lacking this understanding will become disillusioned about design’s ability to propel them forward - after all, good UI designers can be very expensive. The winners will be the ones understanding the strategic outlook design can procure.

Designers themselves will need to become more conscious of the environments in which they exercise their craft. As simple things become commodities (it is now very easy to build an application without a designer aboard a product team), understanding business and tech aspects of the products will become essential.

This is part of a free weekly podcast available on Youtube, and Spotify. Each episode is an in-dept conversation with a leader in Tech, Business, Management or Entrepreneurship. If you want to get all the content, it’s best to listen to the full podcast.


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