Design first

Recently, I was in a conversation with a colleague who used the phrase: design first. It’s a process where the customer’s needs are clearly identified, and then the strategy and product are specifically designed to meet those needs.

This really struck a nerve for me, as I believe organizations should operate in a way where every operation, innovation and conversation should be customer-centric and follow the concept of design first. This approach can actually trigger true business transformation.

We’re not just talking about the design of consumer-facing products, but also the way business is conducted. For example, we’re seeing the appification of organizations, where the design of data is changing.

Data can be input through simple, bite-sized apps while on the move, but equally as important is that key decision-making data that used to be hidden from all but the accountants and analysts due to its complexity, can now be accessed the same way.

Through appification, slices of data are designed to be accessed by any member of the business through a tap on their smartphone / smart watch / smart to view interactive visualizations of data that are relevant to them; the apps show users a picture of what the data means and instantly enhances their experience on the job.

The experience an organization delivers is going to become more pervasive and important to every aspect of business, be it the design of products, services or the organization itself.

Businesses need to remove the barriers between departments and work together to design innovative and cohesive experiences. Roles are starting to change to meet real customer needs, and businesses as a whole need to keep up.

As a result of the current digital shift and reflecting the forward-thinking nature so typical of today’s digital consumer, marketers are beginning to think and act more like chief experience officers.

The chief design officer

We also need to be on the lookout for the emergence of the chief design officer. Design is core to ensuring a truly brilliant experience, so this is the next frontier: design must come first.

Customers today are looking for an interactive, instant experience, where simplicity plays a role because if something’s too complex, the chances are it will just be impatiently brushed aside and forgotten about, or worse, leave a negative impression.

People are also – whether consciously or not – expecting a balance between the data they share with a company, and the payoff they receive.

It’s expected that they will get more personalized and relevant offerings and evolving suggestions to meet their ever-changing needs. If they provide access to their data, it must be used in a timely, targeted manner to make consumers feel well-treated and remain loyal.

Technologies enabling timely consumer engagement are beginning to become mainstream. For example, a number of retailers are starting to integrate beacons, low-energy sensors that connect with devices via Bluetooth to provide real-time location for individuals, as well as take payments and enable other actions.

This means that if you visit your favorite store, it can almost say ‘hello’ as you walk through the door with a special coupon sent directly to your device offering you, the loyal customer, a 10% discount for the next 60 minutes.

Marketers won’t be able to run scattergun campaigns for every customer for long – not everyone wants two bags of diapers for the price of one. D

oesn’t it make more sense to offer the guy who comes in every Friday some discounted chips with the beer he always buys, rather than 10% off lipstick? The best-designed service will make customers feel like you really want to help them and that you have created an offering just for them.

Effective experiences that can lead to repeat business and loyalty can be created by following the three stages of the design first concept.

For the sake of this blog I’m going to focus on the consumer, but the principles behind these steps can be just as well applied to business customers too – demonstrating to them that they’re important to you by design:

The three stages of design first

1. Discovery

This stage is all about being culturally and contextually relevant. A consumer needs to discover and understand a product or service in the first instance, before any form of purchase or loyalty can occur.

Services must therefore be designed so they are easily discovered and understood. They have to feel real and relevant, by way of meeting real human needs.

Importantly, there should be a strong hook or point of differentiation in the way the offering has been designed, as this will be the element people will mention to their friends.

If a business does a good job designing for this first stage of engagement, a positive user reaction will be likely, indicating they recognize the product’s value and are ready to take the next step.

2. Trial

In the trial stage, it is crucial for businesses to make it easy for consumers to start engaging with their product or service. All entry barriers should be reduced.

Gaming dynamics, social service components and engaging design can all be very powerful for consumers as they test their newly discovered product or service.

An ability to fluidly use the service across platforms is also important. But with multiple touch points and interactions, complexity is a real issue, both for the people using the services, as well as for the companies that provide them. This must be addressed as early in the design process as possible.

3. Loyalty

The final, and arguably most important, stage is loyalty. A service that is designed to add value and is meaningful over a long period of time will engender loyalty with the user, where the service has become an essential part of their everyday life.

Consistency, trust and reliability will be essential during this stage, and these attributes must all be considered from the start to keep people coming back.

As consumers begin to trust their services over time and put more of their personal data into them, they should never have doubts about privacy or the true intentions of their service provider.

Being transparent with consumers on their data use is a critical part of an effective design concept.

It’s not about making clear to users in the small print that you won’t sell their private data without their explicit permission, it’s about building an organizational culture from the start that lets people know that’s not what your business is about.

Conclusion: design first, benefit long-term

As businesses continue to transform through digital, the lines between marketing, commerce and services themselves will blur.

With this, companies need to be thinking about the cross-platform experience that customers expect, and how to keep people engaged from the start of their journey to the end.

By adopting an effective design, or design first mentality within businesses, millions of personalized, meaningful interactions and transactions can be created that fulfill the needs of customers in the digital world, advancing an organization’s perception of what it means to truly design experiences for customers.

In tandem, businesses should move away from the concept of marketing as being something you ‘do to’ a customer to something you ‘do with’ a customer. 

They should also move away from words and initiatives such as target, capture and convert and toward terms such as influence, engage, stimulate, share and help.

The end result for customers will be relevant, personalized engagements, and being treated like the individual they are.