what makes great design

What Makes Great Design?

The business conversations around design often go something like this:

Them: It’s all the rage: Sexy, creative, intuitive, empathetic, strategic design. And in an increasingly complex and competitive marketplace, it is said, strategic business design is the key to compete successfully in today’s marketplace.

Us: What does design have to do with my business? We make things. We sell things. We feed people. We fix stuff. There is nothing “sexy” about our company. I don’t even understand what it means to think about my company in terms of “design.”

It’s true, design is not a concept that we’ve traditionally applied to business processes. It’s something that tech companies crow about; women’s shops fawn over; trendy bars rave about. Yet it’s not uncommon today for traditional companies to feel outdated, to wonder how to attract a younger crowd, a more affluent clientele, or the trendsetters that drive new business.

Designers solve problems. They look at an idealized endpoint and figure out how to get there. In an increasingly complex era, businesses, public services, and even global conglomerates are more effective when they simplify and employ processes that make life better, easier, and more enjoyable for their clientele, employees, vendors, shareholders, and other stakeholders. To do this you have to figure out how to design for User Experience. According to a Finnish Design Firm,

Traditional definitions of design often focus on creating discrete solutions—be it a product, a building, or a service. Strategic design applies some of the principles of traditional design to “big picture” systemic challenges like health care, education, and climate change. It redefines how problems are approached, identifies opportunities for action, and helps deliver more complete and resilient solutions. Strategic design is about crafting decision-making.” 1

3M is a good example of a company with an image that has morphed from being a staid, predictable, some might say, boring company into a world-class innovation center. SVP and Chief Design Officer at PepsiCo, previously Head of Global Design at 3M, Mauro Porcini comments…

“We’re moving more and more from producing new products, new services, new brands based on task to producing all of those based on experiences. We’re moving from physical needs to community needs to emotional needs.” 2

3M also knows how to stick to their core story, yet still meet the needs of their audience groups. What is your story? Is it consistent across the board? Has it survived the changes brought on by technology, new systems, new people, positions, and ideas? Do your customers, your employees, your vendors, shareholders believe in you? Do you know what they think, how they feel and why?

Looking at your business from an impartial, removed perspective is the first step in implementing a business design strategy. However, implementing change is never easy.

Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, and Dean Roger Martin, former dean of the Rotman School of Management, point out in “Design for Action.”

“…complex innovations often encounter stiff resistance from intended beneficiaries and those delivering the new product or service, because they jarringly disrupt existing behaviors and business models.”

They suggest that the best way to counter such resistance is to treat the launch of a disrupter as a design challenge in itself—a process they call intervention design.3

So here’s the challenge: Step back and take a good look at your customers and employees. The advantage to starting your investigation with insight into how your major stakeholders feel about your company involves them in the outcome and may help to diminish disruption. Talk to them. Send out questionnaires. Put up a survey online. Install a suggestion box. Hold a user group. Your goal is to find out the answers to the types of questions listed below. (Feel free to add your own as they pertain to your organization).

  • How do your customers find you?
  • How do they get their needs met?
  • How do they feel about your product, service, venue?
  • What do they say about you online?
  • How do they communicate with you?
  • How do you respond to complaints and suggestions?
  • How do you compare to your competitors in their eyes?
  • What is your customer retention rate?
  • How do your employees understand and share your story?
  • How well do they communicate with each other, across departments and up and down the chain of command?
  • Do your employees feel that they are working in the right position in your company?
  • How does one move up in the company and are people aware of requirements for promotion?
  • Are there training opportunities available?
  • Do you listen to suggestions and complaints from your workers?
  • Do your employees feel like they provide real value to your organization?
  • How do you reinforce this?
  • What is your employee retention rate?

When you’ve gathered your information, see how you can create new processes, and new ways of doing things that begin to answer questions, complaints, and suggestions.

Just as you would prototype and test a new product, you can prototype and test a new design strategy based on the information you gather. Then institute the process and test, revise and retest, then measure outcomes against historical data. Apply the same principles to production processes, facility design, marketing, communications, and management, while making sure that your brand– your story– rings true across the board. In a nutshell, design isn’t just about making something look good- it’s about the very essence of your business itself and how it works for your customers.


  1. http://www.helsinkidesignlab.org/pages/what-is-strategic-design
  2. http://ideasondesign.net/speakers/speakers/mauro-porcini/
  3. https://hbr.org/2015/09/design-as-strategy

This article was originally published on LinkedIn: http://bit.ly/2oEYgxN

Robert Endo is the founder and Engagement Manager of Intrepid Data.

Intrepid Data is a full-service developer that builds platforms for web-based applications