How to raise the impact of design in your organisation

Table of content

The potential of design
How to understand your current design maturity level
How to secure the buy-in for design
How to show the value of design for the first time
How to deliver continuous value with design

The potential of design

“Design”, ca. 1960 (Mad Men, AMC)

Design Maturity measures the impact and overall value of design over time and throughout different areas of the business.

Studies have been examining the value a more mature design discipline can bring to an organisation. This report by Forrester on IBM’s Design Thinking Programme show how design maturity can drive productivity with projects needing 33% less time resulting in nearly $1.5million average cost savings. By bringing design thinking into the business, not only was IBM able to increase productivity of designers, but it impacted the productivity of the engineers and overall teams working on building their products and they were able to bring their products to market 50% faster. Or take this report by McKinsey which shows how design-enabled companies can accelerate revenue growth of the company by up to 10%.

A survey of 2200 companies and how they rate design impact in their organisation.

How to understand your current design maturity level

Raising the impact of design in your organisation basically comes down to two phases: an analysis phase in which you lay the groundwork and a continuous value delivery phase in which you show the value of design.

In this example , you can see that the designers are highly trained, but their work is not making much impact on the business. Maybe the organisation is lacking support in character or empathy?
In this example, you can see that the company is having the right customer-focused empathy and character, but the designers are lacking training.

How to secure the buy-in for design

Often we are told as designers to get the buy-in first and then we can do more and better design. And here’s where I don’t agree. I don’t think that the buy-in comes first. Let’s have a look at two typical scenarios an organisation might find itself in:

How to show the value of design for the first time

When I joined a young and fast growing ecommerce retailer in 2017, it aimed to be first in class when it comes to customer experience and service. Every team showed high levels of empathy, but the low levels of Mastery set the boundaries when it came to user-centered impact. At that time design was mostly centered around communication output like posters, banners, campaigns, etc. Design was measured by how slick it looked in mockups on ultrawide monitors. A process which worked well for marketing, but very ineffective for their digital products. A more effective process needed a restructuring of the organisations and redefinition of design, which required me to show the whole organisation what design processes are and what they are capable of.

  1. Integrate design.
    Once an area of the business to work with is chosen, its stakeholders should experience the potential of design first-hand. A designer should facilitate their work and provide them methods to find better solutions.
    In my organisation, I facilitate workshops, mapping activities, and co-designing sessions for the internal tools team. We were able to iterate quickly because we had direct access to the users.
  2. Create measurable results (fast).
    To demonstrate the value of a more mature design for the business, it is necessary to measure performance and impact instantly. Focus is on the existing business KPIs here.
    In my organisation, the users liked the outcome of the sessions so much that they pitched the solutions to their own managers. They themselves could estimate how much faster they were able to do their jobs and how much more satisfied they would be with the improvements.

How to deliver continuous value with design

With some funding secured, expectations are raised. It is time to deliver on the promise. Although the second phase is very similar to the first phase, value delivery will happen on a more broader and systematic way. Every effort in this phase needs to be built on the intersection of three pillars:

The three pillars of delivering continuous value
  1. Integrate stakeholders into the design process and expand the horizons of the People working with designers.
  2. And finally measure design against the existing KPIs of the organisation’s business Platform.
The Design Maturity Matrix also works as a benchmark for future efforts.

Lower the customer avoidance of your team members

In one of my previous work we had a lot of users calling in for support. I wanted the teams working on building a product to be aware of how their users talk about their product and what bothers them. I would organize listening sessions, in which teams could listen in on the support for an hour — they weren’t required to take any notes or anything specific.

Break down silos within the design discipline

Raising mastery happens within the design discipline inside an organisation. Designers often work independently of each other in projects or are assigned to verticals, which let’s them work in silos. Designers have to break out of these silos and develop their own community and agenda outside of the daily work.

Turn saboteurs into your allies

Changing an organisation will naturally create saboteurs. Be prepared to identify them and turn them into your allies.

Eliminate uncertainty by measuring your output

Many designers I’ve met don’t want to learn even the basics of how an organisation works. But designers don’t need an MBA to understand how businesses function. If designers won’t measure their output, organisations will likely never know how much the design of the products or services play a part in the financial benefit of the company. That’s why a mature design discipline must be able to measure how much of its output is enjoyed by its users or recommended to others. You can start with simple measurements.

Stop ignoring the impact of your designs on the world

And last but not least, the most important step to design maturity: taking your cultural, social and environmental legacy through your design seriously, inside and outside your organisation. Ask yourself, how meaningful are your products and services to your customer’s life? How can you minimise your environmental impact? How much are you addressing the needs of minorities? And inside your organisation, are you emphasising fair and ethical work practices?

Final thoughts

Raising design maturity in an organisation is a complex process with many actors involved. I hope that this article helps to shed some light on how you can play a role in advancing the design maturity in your organisation. If not, let’s continue the conversation! I’m always curious about organisations — feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn.

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Dennis Bücker

Dennis Bücker

Principal Experience Designer at IKEA