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Why design-led thinking is critical for companies

With all the trends in emerging technology, there is need for some form of forward thinking approach to designing experiences. In the next five to 10 years, every company will need design leadership at the executive level in order to stay ahead.

“Most companies don’t have that now. But you can see the difference it makes to the companies that has design built into its DNA,” explains Khoi Vinh, Principal Designer, Adobe.



While Vinh advocates the need for someone deeply steeped into design carrying the torch, Penny Wilson, CMO, Hootsuite, is of the opinion that everyone in a company must have a design-led mindset in order to be customer obsessed in creating a product or service.

The discussion took place at the Adobe Think Tank that precedes the Adobe Summit 2018 in Las Vegas. A key point made in the conversation was that design led thinking helped to navigate the cultural shift in any company.

Design – implementing desirable change
Leland Maschmeyer, Chief Creative Officer, Chobani clarifies what design means in this context. “People think of design as an aesthetics component, which it is not. Design thinking or other forms of design is to understand and implement desirable change. You understand the ideal state that people want, the gap between that and where you are and then figure out how to build the bridge,” he says, asserting that this change needs time and resources and must begin at leadership level.

He points out visualisation to be a massively important part of design as the grammar of design, articulating how change will happen.

When a company makes the shift to be design-led, it permeates into its DNA. At one level, this could mean more engagement of the consumer base but the general sensibility that this could lead to something great can be incorrect.

Does consumer know best
There is an argument against the statement that the consumer knows best. People know what they want but it is up to a designer to understand below the pattern towards the latent need and build towards it. And the designer needs to be involved in every step of the process

“Strategy is design,” says Maschmeyer, elaborating, “Every decision made in strategy eliminates a whole sphere of possibilities of how something can be brought to life. A lot of people think strategy first but this is no longer good. Strategy is a hypothesis that needs to be paralleled with creative development. Once you understand that, you understand design is not the creative production but the entire process.”

The panellists at Adobe Think Tank also encouraged diversity and inclusion in design led thinking. Developers with different background, not only from a demographic standpoint but also in disciplines, build in their values in the machine. Unless diversity is exercised, it would be a case of a product for masses built by a few.

Diversity uncovers or unlocks solutions to questions one would never have otherwise asked.

Cannot automate all
Is there place for automating design led experiences? The general consensus on this is that technology today allows for this to happen in certain parts of the overall process. This could also be iterated over time. However, Maschmeyer offers a contrarian view. “I would say it is impossible,” he says.

His thought process is that the idea of automating design is a fundamental misunderstanding of what design is and how it works. “Design is an integrating function to make creative leaps towards possibilities that are unprovable. Computer will do what you ask it to do. Unless we are speaking of very sophisticated general AI, which would eb very difficult to build, machine cannot crunch the requisites for design led experiences,” he adds.

Even as the limit of AI can surprise the industry and creative professionals, thought leaders have pointed time and again that creativity and art is not programmable. This is yet another reason by design led thinking, and some way of democratising it, is critical for companies.

A good design shows respect for the customer, to their time or to what they desire. If a company can incorporate system design thinking that keeps solving slivers of problems, working towards a larger goal, it will create something remarkable.

Noor Fathima Warsia

A veteran journalist in the Indian marketing, media and advertising fraternity, Noor Fathima Warsia took on the role of Group Editor -– APAC for Digital Market Asia in May 2013. Noor has focussed on tracking trends and developments in the Indian media industry.