Leveraging the power of design

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Much has been written about design thinking a la Stanford D School and IDEO’s methodology. In a nutshell, it breaks down to something like this:

1. Empathy for the user

Talking to the customers and listening to what they say, how they feel, and what their motivations are.

2. Divergent and convergent ideation

Basically, brainstorming a ton of ideas that address the needs of the customer (divergent), and then settling on a select few to advance forward (convergent).

3. Iterate

Build and prototype a range of solutions, and test with customers early and frequently.

The real challenge is actually implementing this methodology in a real-world situation. It’s relatively easy to do a workshop and engage employees for a day, but once they go back to their desks, it rapidly becomes business as usual.


There are always more tactical issues to deal with, fires to put out, and major pressing company priorities.

To be clear, I believe in the design thinking methodology, but I believe a few things need to be in place before it can become effective. Based on my 20-plus years as a designer and creative director, I’ve come across a few principles that work:

Culture is key

There is no innovation without culture. Without fail, those companies I’ve been involved with that have strong creative culture have had extraordinary brands and attracted the best and brightest.

It’s a virtuous cycle—great attracts great. Humans are attracted to authenticity, both internally as employees and as consumers of a product.

“There is no innovation without culture.”

It comes from the top down. The CEO has to embody the ethos of the company values, or it doesn’t work. Witness the massive success of Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, and Brian Chesky of Airbnb.

Hulu headquarters in Santa Monica, CA.

Hulu headquarters in Santa Monica, CA.

Design as co-pilot

Design has to be at the table with product development or marketing at the start. It can’t be an afterthought.

There’s a strong tendency towards a throw-it-over-the-wall mentality in the following order: technology to product to design at the end in order to “make it pretty.”

“Design can’t be an afterthought.”

This is an old school mentality, and it’s heartening to see younger, newer ventures implementing a more collaborative approach to creating. Again, this ties into corporate culture.

Brutal honesty

It’s important to have pride in your company and product, but you need to be relentlessly honest about its experience. Being in a bad company that you get used to is tantamount to being in a bad relationship: you often don’t realize how bad it is until you’ve gotten out and started a new relationship.

How does your company’s culture and offering compare to the competition? Go outside. What does the landscape really look like and how do you and your company compare?

Design can be a powerful force for incredible products, offerings, and marketing in a company—or it can be cheap lamination.

“Design is a through line that runs from the values of a company out to the product.”

In the end, people know the difference: design is a through line that runs from the internal principles and values of a company out to the end result, the product, that touches the customer.

And that’s the power of design. To authentically connect people to people, people to products, and people to brands.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn.


John S. Couch, Vice President UX & Design at Hulu
John S. Couch is the Vice President, UX and Design at Hulu. Recently, he was the Chief Creative Officer of The Shop and Head of Design and Senior Creative Director for Magento and eBay Enterprise. Couch was formerly an Entertainment and Technology Specialist focusing on cross-platform content strategies and development for television, film, Internet, mobile, video games, and emerging new media platforms. Earlier roles include VP at both CBS Interactive and Digital Kitchen. His many contributions have led to the success of Survivor, Big Brother, The Amazing Race, and the CSI franchise. John is a standing member of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, the Writer’s Guild of America. He is also a screenplay writer, and is fluent in Japanese.

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