3 Tactical Steps to Become a Design-Integrated Business

Why become a Design-Integrated business?

We live in a technology-dependent world. From Zoom calls to WhatsApp groups, digital platforms have become the only way many of us work, exercise, get educated and stay in touch with family and friends. The global coronavirus pandemic has made human-centered design more critical than ever before.

Organizations are on the hook to create new customer experiences that fit with this digital lifestyle we’re all becoming accustomed to since the pandemic forced us to change our “normal” way of life. Companies must ensure their systems build trust and deliver value in a consistent and reliable way that will encourage consumers to keep returning. The key to that success lies in designing apps, products, systems, and information technologies around the needs of the users, by following a human-centered design process.

What exactly is a Design-Integrated business?

Crucially, a Design-Integrated business is more than just a collection of cross-functional teams. 

Its linchpin is a human-centered design culture, supported by the board, the CEO, and all of the C-suite that incorporates a shared vision, values, purpose, and language. It operates with cross-functional teams that use shared methods, systems and budget. Most importantly, its leaders and teams agree on the business metrics that matter, track those metrics, and illustrate how design is affecting them.

When the organization shares the same goals, everyone works together to determine the measurements that matter most in improving the outcomes that make a difference in the business – and they take action to improve results based on those metrics. 

New research on design integration 

Limina surveyed more than 100 design and user experience (UX) decision-makers across a variety of sectors, including biotech, software, fintech, and professional services, to find out how they view design and UX, and what role it plays in their company’s success. This quantitative research was supported by ten phone interviews with design and UX leaders from recognized brands, including Google, MicroStrategy, ADP, Geico, Capital One, Atlassian, Slalom Consulting, and The Team W. The research report, “The 2020 Design-Integration Report: 6 Best Practices to Build Design-Integrated Businesses that Win,” sheds insight on how business leaders can achieve Design-Integration into their companies, and how UX and design professionals can demonstrate their business value. 

According to the research findings, 86% of companies fail to integrate design across the organization and forfeit business benefits. Only 14% of organizations are considered Design-Integrated businesses that embed a human-centered design culture into their organizations to gain both exceptional customer experiences as well as business and financial goals. Of the 86% of companies, the study finds 15% are “Design-Conscious,” taking strong action to move in the direction of integrated design while the remainder are lagging. Here are some of the highlights from the research, and guidance on how UX and design professionals can begin to pave the way for Design-Integration in their organizations.

3 Tactical Steps to Get Started Today

There’s no single path to becoming a Design-Integrated business. The journey to a high level of Design-Integration takes time and requires a whole-hearted commitment from a company’s leadership and a sustained investment in people, capabilities, technology, and cultural change. One approach is to make incremental movements towards an integrated model. Small, but very disruptive, steps can put organizations on the track to strategic transformation. To get started, take these three purposeful steps to pave the way for design integration.

1. Identify a set of metrics cross-functional teams can manage and share

Proving return on investment is foundational to illustrating how important Design-Integration is, especially to leadership. However, to do so, leaders and teams need to agree on the business metrics that matter, track those metrics, and illustrate how Design-Integration impacts them. This requires collaboration between design-focused team members and team members with focus or expertise in other areas, such as business and data analysis. It’s a two-way street: Design needs to adapt and build more of an understanding of standard business metrics, and UX design-specific metrics need to be aligned with business metrics.

According to our research, 87% of companies say that such metrics and business impact are typically a part of their initial design conversations. With those directives and benchmarks set, having design professionals integrated earlier in the development process means that problems with UX and project viability can be addressed from the outset. Programmers can manage avoidable rework and errors, or improvements and changes can be flagged early in the process, reducing the cost of more complex downstream changes. As a result, teams are more efficient, time spent on development is reduced, and the cost and speed of getting a product to market are improved when teams are managed to the metrics that matter.

2. Identify opportunities to establish reusable artifacts and repeatable processes in design operations

Our research revealed that less than 1/3 of companies approach design standards with an active referenced standards management system. And, that about half (49%) of companies start most of their UX work from scratch each time.

Reinventing the wheel at the start of every design initiative is a waste of time, effort, and money. The root cause of this problem is the lack of reusable artifacts and repeatable processes. Companies need to create, archive, and reuse artifacts and document and adopt reusable processes to increase efficiency, reduce costs, and produce more consistent and better design. 

How can companies create and document artifacts during the software development lifecycle (SDLC)? These 3 core activities support reusability and repeatability in the SDLC.

  1. Define each step in the SDLC process and then identify processes, necessary artifacts, and their touchpoints (roles on the team who need them). Capture why, how, and when they use it in language that is meaningful to them.
  2. Build artifact libraries/repositories, produce reusable templates, and document best practices and standards
  3. Create living repositories connected to a centralized knowledge-base to store all the reusable artifacts and guidance

3. Establish a common language, and promote a culture of human-centered design

Communication is key when building a design culture for two main reasons. First, it provides a common language so everyone understands the meaning of the terminology being used. Second, it educates the organization about design’s role in building products that provide a superior user experience. 

Develop a common language to create a design culture

Creating a common language removes barriers and breaks down silos, transforming inter-company relationships, culture, and efficiency. When working in cross-functional teams, finding common ground in terms of the language used is essential to mitigate the risk of misunderstandings derailing the product development initiative. Better yet, it enables a higher degree of integration between functional teams with shared artifacts, processes, and systems.

A good example of this has been the use of “design tokens” in design systems that can express brand elements across channels (mobile, desktop, source-code and design libraries) when abstracted at a level higher than CSS.

Using the same terminology is arguably even more important for global team projects when the added complication of diverse languages and cultures comes into play. By using the same vocabulary, cross-functional teams are better able to build trust and understanding with each other. 

Additionally, as C-level executives and design leaders speak the same “design” language throughout the business those around them will inevitably hear it, experience it, and start modeling it themselves. Having a shared design language and a mutual understanding among team members goes a long way to building the culture of a Design-Integrated Business.

Promote design to educate the organization

Think of it as running a mini-marketing campaign within the company to build awareness of design and UX as a process. Too often, design teams work in a bubble with low levels of communication, collaboration, and understanding of the black magic of design. What happens when a company has a small group of people who use their own jargon that others don’t know? It disconnects teams fast.

A communication plan addresses this issue and teaches the company about:

  • The importance of design and UX from a business perspective
  • Design’s function in building products that provide a superior user experience
  • How design can work collaboratively and in tandem with the business and technology
  • The benefits to the company of working with design

So when a particular team comes to work with design and UX they have a mental model of what this function does and what its role is going to be. This makes it easier to work together.

A shared language, concepts, and understanding when it comes to designing products fosters a powerful sense of connection, community, and purpose.

The Path Toward Design Integration

Beginning with these activities will help organizations get on the track to becoming Design-Integrated. People are using mobile apps to watch a movie on Netflix, have lunch delivered from DoorDash and send payments to friends with Venmo. They expect the same level of ease of use, personalization, and guidance they encounter from these innovative businesses. Now is the time to focus on the user experience of digital products and services in our technology-dependent world.

Download a complete copy of the research report from Limina.

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