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October 06, 2016
Forget tech: Digital success is all about people.
By: Celia Romaniuk

Have you ever questioned why services such as AirBnB, Uber and Kickstarter are so successful? If so, you’re not alone. Enterprises want an answer, as businesses like these take a great chunk of their market share.

For me, the answer is clear. While the use of advanced technologies such as cloud computing, machine learning and big data analytics have played an important role in enabling the achievements of these digital challengers, there is a deeper underlying reason for their success: they understand people and design their businesses around creating brilliant services for them.

I realise that this may sound a fairly simple concept, but it’s one that has huge implications for modern business. If you want to create truly human-centric services, then design has to be an integral part of your strategy.

Despite what certain people may think, design is not “advanced colouring in”. It isn’t something that should be tacked on to a service once traditionally important considerations – such as cost – have been taken into account. Rather, the design mindset, which at its heart is about being responsive to people and their environment, can be a productive starting point for solving every business challenge.

I have seen many businesses who are already taking this lesson on board. These businesses realise that good design is integral to people actually using their services. Moreover, they also realise that good design cannot be achieved by analysis alone: it thrives on human creativity and intuition.

Importantly, as HBR reported last year, Design Thinking shouldn’t be limited to the way in which customer services are created. Businesses are staffed by human beings, but often the ways in which we are asked to work doesn’t reflect this fact. Design can create systems, processes and experiences that make sense for employees. This can have far-reaching business benefits – not least because great employee experience often translates to great customer experience, as can be seen at John Lewis.

For both customer service and business service, much of the new momentum for design-led approaches has come from modern technology’s ever-increasing presence. While innovations such as cloud computing, big data, machine learning and the Internet of Things promise to create new ways of living and working, they will only have a positive impact if they can be channelled into services, which are simple and meaningful to the people who use them.

So how can businesses go about creating design-led, human-centred services? The key is to follow the Design Rule of Three:

  1. Design Thinking: Using design methods and mind-set to solve complex problems; considering people, their context and their needs first, and using iterative prototyping to get to the best solution.

  2. Design Doing: Or as I prefer to call it, “designing”: manifesting your ideas into actual experiences; services that are not only usable but delightful and enjoyable for customers and employees to use.

  3. Design Culture: this is the glue that makes rules one and two work: building a corporate culture in which design can thrive and creativity and innovation is valued.

For larger, established enterprises, transforming to a design-led approach can be daunting. In my experience, enterprises looking to bridge this gap need a layer between the designers and the business; people who can help translate design-led creativity into the language of business and boardroom. By demonstrating how design leads to better services and increased sales, boards will quickly realise the value of this approach.

My advice is to start every journey with people at the forefront of your mind.  If companies are focusing on the needs of customers from a projects inception, they will create services we love and grow successful businesses in the process.  As the pace of technology innovation increases, the ability of organisations to keep things human-centric is going to be more important than ever.  Without design, it is easy to see technology speeding ahead – and forgetting to take us with it.  

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