How Designers are Changing the Face of Business

Good design can drive innovation and better business performance, so it's critical that designers have a strategic seat at the table.

How Designers are Changing the Face of Business
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Design visually brings a brand to life, but in a crowded marketplace it now plays another all-important role — it can drive your business growth.

Good design makes experiences feel effortless, personal, relevant, and rewarding. And the more designers get involved in strategy and planning, the more design can drive innovation and better business performance.

We spoke with some top designers about the current state of design in business — and its future. These leaders at Dropbox, JLL, Uber, and SHOWTIME discussed how to tell compelling brand stories, create unbeatable customer experiences, and shift corporate culture to reflect the importance of design. Here are some of their insights.

Designers are chief brand storytellers

An effective brand story communicates what an organization stands for and what its future holds. That story is integral to creating an emotional connection with customers and with employees. Many of the leaders we spoke with say their branding efforts have reshaped their organizations from the inside out.

For example, when Dropbox shifted its focus from file sharing and storage to collaboration and co-creation, designers took the lead to reimagine the brand as a company that stood for dependability and simplicity.

“For the rebrand, we knew we were going to have to take risks, be bold, and be opinionated,” says Collin Whitehead, head of Dropbox Brand Studio.

That meant challenging the status quo and standing up to internal skepticism. But the team’s strong opinions, developed after careful audience research, paid off. This made the new direction clear and allowed the company to rally behind it.

An authentic brand story makes a powerful statement when everyone else looks the same. Take commercial real estate firm JLL. It rebranded to draw a clear line between itself and competitors.

“In our industry, you see a lot of building photography and company-centric language,” says Becky Mikrut, creative director, Americas region, at JLL. “We set ourselves apart with a more expressive human approach.”

JLL put forward a new, unexpected visual identity with “painterly elements” and a more friendly, personal tone — a powerful statement in a homogeneous industry.

The customer experience is more than the sum of its parts

The customer experience extends far beyond just a product, service, or brick-and-mortar store. Customer experience happens wherever a customer is.

That’s what Uber recently learned.

“We used to think of [the customer experience] as the relationship we built with the customer using our apps and services. And now we understand that it’s so much more,” says Michael Gough, Uber’s vice president of product design.

All the ways customers encounter Uber — through the mobile app, drivers, ads, media coverage, and other customers — are an important part of the experience. Designers must consider several factors when they design for Uber’s customer experience, including safety perceptions, the economic impact of driver employment, and how drivers feel and act.

For some companies, most customer interactions happen digitally. Online experiences are a moving target, as audience attention shifts and the marketplace becomes more competitive. However, designers can empower your organization to tackle this challenge.

At SHOWTIME, design teams are engines for experimentation, and they find new ways to gain viewers’ attention with rapid-fire content personalization.

“The demands for more personalized, custom, and exclusive content have increased,” says Paul Nicholson, senior vice president of production and technology at SHOWTIME. That means designers must hustle to get multiple versions of promos live quickly, and must continually iterate and test to optimize the customer experience.

Think customers, not transactions

If you want to win customers, you must understand and personally connect with them. Data is useful, but you can’t overlook the human aspect either. That’s where designers can bring value.

“If you think about customer experience in terms of transactions, you run into a lot of trouble,” Michael says. “We’re very proud of the way we use data to make decisions, but it can be tempting to optimize to the transaction. Instead, we need to optimize for the outcomes our customers and partners expect.”

For another example, think back to Dropbox’s rebranding. The company discovered its core users were mainly creative teams, Collin says. That’s why the company decided to take a unique approach with a new visual identity — as a way to signal shared values with its customers.

“Our research found an audience that wanted to be provoked by different perspectives and strong opinions. They wanted to be inspired,” Collin says.

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