We do a lot of work analysing customer experience within the business-to-business technology industry. One thing we’ve noticed over the last 5-10 years is the rise in the importance of design-related tasks for customers.
We recently did a top tasks analysis for a large technology company and a design-related task was the second most important overall task for their customers. This really surprised our client. “Why is design so important to our customers?” a manager asked. It was just not an area of focus for this client. They had very little design content, code samples, architectural plans or other information available, and what they did have was all over the place.
We needed to understand what the customers really meant by design. To start, we asked our client what they thought their customers meant. Our client understood design as a type of “pre-sales” activity or something that happened before configuration and installation.
However, as we began to research the customers’ understanding of design, we saw that they had a much broader concept. They were seeing design as a continuous process, something they did on a regular basis.
The world that digital technology creates is highly complex and ever-changing. There is rarely now a simple and clear-cut design phase, followed by an installation or rollout phase. The system being designed has become fluid. It needs to be constantly optimized and refined. The interface must be constantly evolving based on customer feedback. In this sort of world, design becomes a constant process and a way of thinking.
More and more people are seeing design as part of their jobs. More and more people are thinking about design and thinking like designers. In business-to-business, in particular, customers don’t really want to buy ‘products’ anymore. They want services and solutions, and they realize that the optimal solution this year may be sub-optimal next year.
This poses new challenges to traditional organizations used to selling products and ‘boxes’. Increasingly, their customers are asking them to become design partners, to help them with consulting, optimizing, training and design-related content and tools.
Helping your customers become better designers is a new and exciting opportunity. It involves a reimagining of what your purpose is. It is where much of the world is heading. The more complexity we face the more design we require. As complexity increases so must design capacity increase.
Design happens at multiple levels. Design happens in the code. Design happens in the interface. Design happens in the process. And increasingly in the digital world, design happens in the content, in the words. Words are the DNA of digital, and words will become even more important with the rise of voice interfaces.
Whatever way you think about design, you can be sure that there are an awful lot more people today who think that design is part of their jobs than thought so 10 or 20 years ago.
Digital is driving a shift towards customer outcomes and away from organizational outputs. For a long time, it was enough the make and produce things, whether that be code, visuals or content. Once these things technically ‘worked’ – once the compliance or project delivery buttons could be ticked – that was often enough.
Now, you need to make sure the thing is useful; that it delivers the right outcome. That requires increasingly sophisticated design skills and there is a huge opportunity for organizations who can help make their customers better designers.