How to elevate design in large companies

4 min read
Tara Malone
  •  Jun 11, 2018
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Have you heard about the design revolution taking place in the world’s most successful organizations? Increasingly, major companies like IBM and Cisco are using design principles to help them address market challenges. A design mindset encourages an innovative approach to finding more effective solutions to these challenges.

In our latest Fireside Chat, influential design leaders Aarron Walter, Arin Bhowmick, Sherie Masters, and Matt Cutler discussed how design principles can be used to transform large organizations. They also provided important insights and tips on how you can promote design principles in your company.

How to get executive buy-in

One of the major issues the design leaders identified was how to convince executives in your company to adopt a design mindset. It’s extremely important to understand the executives’ concerns and explain how design principles can help their company.

Sherie Masters described how this is done at USAA, explaining, “We engage executives and program teams in something that is applicable to them—let them participate in the [design] sessions and the workshop and get a lot of lift from that.” This collaboration fosters a team mindset between designers and executives, and it raises awareness of how a design mindset helps USAA effectively deliver first-rate service.

At IBM, there is an emphasis on including customers and sponsored users in the design process. VP of Design Arin Bhowmick stated that “the best stories at IBM involve collaborating with customers in the design process.” He explained that executives appreciate having feedback from customers and designers on which products and offerings best meet user needs. If using design principles results in better products that customers are buying, you have a compelling case for why executives should support a design mindset.

The value of design

Getting executive buy-in is essential for promoting design practices in your company. This raises the question: How can you communicate the value of design to executives who are mainly concerned about financial results and workplace efficiency?

When explaining the value of design to executives, it’s important to help them see how design thinking can help them overcome problems their companies face. As Arin explained, “The level of investment in applied design thinking has a lot to do with the design education we give our executives. At IBM we educated executives on the power of design thinking on applied problems that are specific to their business.”

Related: Design thinking for chatbots

In other words, you need to explain to them how design thinking can help their business. Give specific examples and measurable results to support your case for adopting a design mindset.

Aligning design to business outcomes and goals

In addition to helping executives understand the value of design, make sure that your designers understand the executives’ point of view and take metrics into account. Sherie recommended helping designers “get off design lingo,” become educated in other areas like data and engineering, and “to understand business owners’ minds.” This helps them to move beyond the design bubble and take into account the goals executives are striving for.

“Designers need the opportunity to pursue their creativity, but they also need to know the metrics and take responsibility for serving the needs of the company.”

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Arin agreed with Sherie’s recommendation, noting that designers tend to focus on their specific projects as opposed to their company’s larger goals. They are generally creative types who value passion and insight, but according to Arin it is important that they have an awareness of numbers and metrics.

While designers need the opportunity to pursue their creativity, Arin felt they also need to know the metrics and take responsibility for serving the needs of the company. In this way, design can promote creative thinking while helping executives reach their business goals.

How to scale a design team

With these points in mind, how can you help your design team grow and thrive? The design leaders each explained how they promoted the development of design teams in their organizations. It’s important to note that while there are different approaches you can take, collaboration is key.

At IBM, designers work with product managers and engineers to determine what they want the product outcome to be. This promotes an innovative mindset while keeping sight of the company goals. Similarly, USAA decided to centralize design by emphasizing more collaboration between teams so they all can work together to “realize business outcomes.” Matt recommended working within your organization’s existing structure. At Cisco, the designers are highly involved in the business goals and encouraged to participate in setting goals.

Related: THE LOOP, a short documentary about design thinking at IBM

At the same time, make sure designers on your team have plenty of opportunities to engage their creativityTwitter Logo—and encourage them to share their enthusiasm with others. As Matt pointed out, “design thinking is a fun and effective way to work.” The design team can lead by example and help promote more of a design mindset in your company.

“Encourage designers to share their enthusiasm with others.”

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One point the leaders all agreed on is that a design mindset can greatly help your company in the long run. It promotes creative thinking and can help the company evolve with the needs of the market. And above all, design thinking encourages a spirit of innovation so your company can stay relevant even as times change.Twitter Logo

You can listen to the full recording to hear more insights and tips from the design leaders on how a design mindset can be promoted in your organization. And make sure to follow along for more info on upcoming Fireside Chats!

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