Apple just became the world’s first trillion dollar company, beating Amazon by a couple of weeks. It is now the highest valued company of all time. Apple’s success is mostly connected to it’s design focus. Let me correct myself here actually: It has a unique “turn design into growth” focus.

The business world has gone from ‘making people want things’ to ‘making things people want’. Design — with its focus on users — is the route through which brands will either succeed at this or fail.

In a world where software becomes ubiquitous, design becomes a differentiator. Companies like Uber and Airbnb have taken their respective market through offering the best user experience in their verticals — they saw growth surging and competitors losing out.

The question is: How can companies of any kind, without the resources of Apple, possibly with established roots outside design, integrate design-thinking into business at the top ? How can strategy incorporate design? How may they find designers who can help with such mindset- & strategy shift? How can you create a design culture for your organisation?

Note: This article shamelessly promotes & references my favorite articles/ resources on UX strategy 😉

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  1. Make it the company vision

Amazon’s vision is to become the most customer centric e-commerce company on earth. With that they basically say: It is our vision to grow through the best design, best user experience, best company in our vertical.

At my company CareerFoundry, we have started the shift towards design = growth culture in 2015 and today, we try to develop a design culture through our vision: We want to become the most user-centric education company on earth. (Sounds familiar? 😉

We are proud of this vision, because we believe today’s education system is hardly user centric. Many education companies charge hundred of thousands of dollars for education programs without promising anything in return. We all heard about the swathes of unemployed students with sky rocket debts. We at CareerFoundry want to change that. User focused education does what’s best for the user, and we believe that aligning user needs with business strategy will turn us into one of the most exciting (and fastest growing) education companies on the planet.

However, after we proudly presented this vision, we realised that many people had different understanding of what “user centric” education means, and even less of an understand what that means for the vision.

Thus we went into an exercise* with the entire team to align our understanding and parameters that define good design focus for us.

This was super useful, because you need all team members to share the same vision and design understanding. Famously at Apple even the janitors have a design understanding. Whether that’s true or not, it highlights the fact that you need to have everybody on board and aligned!

*The exercise first consisted of a survey that asked the employee’s understanding of user centricity and design, then we went into 1-on-1 meetings with randomly selected employees for more qualitative feedback, and then the results were presented which helped everybody be aligned on the goal.

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2. Align business strategy with UX Strategy

“Aligning the UX strategy with the Business Strategy is an essential part of getting UX to the forefront and winning support for the work you do. It’s not too complicated to achieve either.

You need to ask questions like:

  • How are our offerings currently positioned in the market?
  • What are the operating and ongoing costs of the business?
  • How does the pricing model work? Why was it chosen over the alternatives?
  • What are the key factors that influence our overall margin?
  • What might make a competitor more or less successful in any given year than we are?
  • What do you think our potential customers prefer in the current competitive offerings?
  • What are the company’s plans for strategic growth this year, next year and in the longer future?
  • What categories of product are key to that growth?

It is answers to questions like these that allow you to start asking UX questions that support the answers provided.

For example; if you’re told that category X is the key strategic category for the business. You can then examine how you can draw attention to that category via your app or website without relying on the time tested “giant banner ad”.

Or you might want to examine how you can improve profitability through the user experience by increasing “add on” sales to the same volumes sold in retail stores, thus supplementing a low margin leader product with higher margin support.

The link between the core user experience and the business needs is a vital part of UX becoming a serious contributor to business objectives.”

Read more at Johnny Holland.

3. The four tenets of UX Strategy

I love this simple framework, because it responds in a simple way to the two big questions when it comes to UX Strategy

  1. How do we design the best user experience for a specific product?
  2. What is the best way to create and manage UX at a company?

Read more at Neil O’Donoghu and Jamy Levy’s Book “UX Strategy” (2015)

4. The UX Strategy guide

This guide includes some fantastic templates that help anybody, whether designer or business CEO to align design thinking, user needs and business goals:

UX Strategy guide:

5. Develop a design culture, not just a design team

My two favorite points from Yuri Vetrov’s excellent articles:

  • Platform thinking: Don’t just look at the task at hand — take a broader view. What can you build into the experience to achieve growth, to achieve differentiation, to achieve customer loyalty? No designer or business person should disregards these factors even in the smallest decisions
  • Bring the company from design team to design Culture: Identify strength and weaknesses in your team’s design understanding. Then fill in the gaps though education, KPIs and new hires.

More in Applied UX Strategy and Design Ops by Yuri Vetrov, especially part 4.2 from design team to design culture

6. Designers step up: How to hire or become a Chief Design Officer

“Design Leadership courses are on the rise. The reason is that business leaders often have a low understanding of design, whereas designers have a low understanding of business. I liked this article on the requirements of a Chief design officer, because they are simple and easy to understand:

  • Align with the CEO and shareholders: It’s 50 per cent of the work. If you can achieve alignment on strategy, you stand a good chance of getting stuff done.
  • Be bold: Take brave decisions and don’t fear failure.
  • Embrace the brilliant misfit: One person can’t do it all. You need to hire a small team of brilliant thinkers and doers to make it.”

Read more at Design council.

Thanks for reading. Leave a like if you enjoyed this article.

You can follow our journey and contact me at LinkedIn and Instagram.

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