Why being a design-led company is a winning business advantage
Design matters in business. Companies compete on the strength of their design, express their branding through design, or even form emotional connections with customers through it. That’s why having a design-led culture is important to many businesses, but it’s not always the easiest thing to implement.
Design is often seen as an organisational function - a service that’s just called upon when needed. But when design is seen as a key part of a business’s strategy and is even allowed to shape that strategy, organisations really reap the benefits. There’s no specific blueprint for building a culture of design however; successful design-led companies all do it differently. Placing designers strategically within an organisation is important but the question is: where should they go?
Putting designers in various teams throughout the company means those teams have quick and easy access to the designer’s knowledge and skills. However, there is the risk that design and projects across the organisation might end up looking inconsistent as the designers might not be able to easily communicate with each other. To help ease this problem, style guides or design standards could be introduced. For example, Google has plenty of resources to help designers in their teams stay consistent and on brand and they make sure they’re easy for everybody to access.
The Internal Agency
In-house design agencies are becoming increasingly popular within bigger companies. Keeping a team of designers together who can be tapped into when needed is convenient and it means their output will be consistent. But these internal agencies will tend to work on larger projects, meaning they might not have enough time to work on much else, leaving smaller projects and details to unguided departments.
Focus on users
Not everyone agrees that a design-led organisation is best practice. Airbnb, a company known for its brilliant design, emphasises greater focus on the user viewpoint rather than giving designers an elevated status. Every project team at Airbnb has a project manager whose role is to represent the user and keep their perspective at the forefront of the project. They also have a set of tools called Another Lens, a series of questions that challenges designers to recognise any biases they may have and consider the opposite.
But to challenge Airbnb’s view on design-led organisations, design is arguably all about making things better for people. At least it should be. A report commissioned by the Design Council found the benefits of design are greatest when design is closely linked to solving customer problems. There might not be a winning formula for how to structure a culture of design, but having the culture focus on the end users sure is one.
A culture of design gives companies a competitive edge. Getting everyone in the organisation on board - particularly senior managers - means design will have the best chance to flourish. Just make sure your users are always kept in mind - they’re the ones you’re designing for.