Design runs deep

Irene Au – design leader at Google, Yahoo!, Udacity, and Netscape – now partner at Khosla Ventures published this exposition on what design is.


It’s written for CEOs – in particular those who may not  fully recognise their role in design and its critical impact on customer experience.

She introduces a perspective which should resonate particularly well with CEOs who are still adding digital façades to their existing businesses:

When we think about design, we often think about how a product looks. As makers of technology we might also understand deeply that design is not just about how a product looks but how it works: components that enable people to use your product, and how it all fits together. All that cascades from your company’s strategy, values, and principles, and the scope of the problem you choose to tackle. All of that manifests itself in the design of the experiences you offer.


Design runs deep

Today, it’s rare to find a business that doesn’t claim a ‘customer first’ mindset or ‘customer-centric’ philosophy.

The principle that the design of customer experiences reflects the company values seems intuitive and obvious.

So why then are catastrophic user experiences so common?

Why do so many corporate façades present as a fraternity of silos with clumsy connectivity and evidently little consideration of the customer and their goals?

Why is it still possible for a company to deploy a customer experience that efficiently highlights exactly how far away from truly being well-connected and customer-considered they are?

Au concludes that the design that faces the customer offers a lens through to the inner state of the company.

Just as a person’s posture can reflect his or her inner state, so does your product’s design reflect the state of your company. I’ve seen org charts, power struggles, and agendas manifest through design. I’ve seen the absence of strategy, values, principles, and a clear point of view manifest through design.

You need to think about design from the inside-out. You can’t fix your design without fixing these deep issues and this is why every CEO is a designer, whether they recognize it or not.

If your expectation is that your design team can work around or patch over your company’s organizational issues, power struggles, and agendas, or lack of strategy, clear values, principles, or point of view, you’re shunning your responsibility in making design great for your users.

Product design and solutions delivery should enable customers to focus on achieving their goals, not navigating your corporate hierarchy.

A true customer-first, digitally-enabled approach mandates your teams to focus on delivering a core experience that adds frictionless value to the customer.

Design isn’t an afterthought. It runs deep and reveals a great deal about you and your team.

Take a look at your business from your customer’s perspective. Like what you see?