Everything you need to know about Design Transformation

Simon Tratnik
  • 4
    min read
  • Simon Tratnik
    Jan 6, 2023

There are not many constants in business but there is a universal truth:

Customer needs evolve over time.

Therefore the way businesses design and deliver products must also evolve. Obvious, right?

The surprising thing is, although everyone in the product world knows this fact, the majority of companies don’t actively reflect it in their strategy.

And that’s where Design Transformation comes in. It may sound like an abstract term, but essentially it means getting back to the basics of customer-centric business.

In this article, we’ll dive into:

1. What is Design Transformation in business?
2. Why are leading companies using Design Transformation?
3. Simple steps to implement Design Transformation in your organization
4. Real-life example of success stories
5. Common challenges and how to overcome them
6. How to measure the success of Design Transformation

What is Design Transformation in business?

In short, Design Transformation is the process of reorienting a company's entire approach to focus on creating value-based customer experiences. This means making Design Thinking central to all aspects of the business - from product development, to marketing, to customer service. Putting the customer at the heart of everything you do in your company.

Design Transformation is the process of reorienting a company's entire approach to focus on creating value-based customer experiences.

The goal is to move away from traditional, siloed systems, in favor of a more inte grated and collaborative strategy, involving all stakeholders and departments.

Importantly, the details of the process can look different for every company, but the aim is always to cultivate a culture that shares these common threads:

  • Embracing change: Dynamic and agile organizations constantly revisit, reconsider and redefine - not only products and solutions, but also the challenge itself.
  • Cross-functional collaboration: Truly great products aren’t created by a single department. The majority of time-wasting and setbacks happen when teams are working in isolation and no one knows what’s going on in the other silo.
  • Ditching outdated processes: ‘We’ve always done it this way’ doesn’t cut it in today’s fast paced market. Replace with ‘Right now, we’re doing it this way. Is it working?’
  • Comprehensive approach: Design Transformation is a deceptive term because it goes way beyond the design department. It’s infusing the same strategy across all processes through the whole organization. Marketing, sales, customer service.
  • Customer-centric thinking: There’s a vast difference between companies who say they’re customer centric vs those who actually walk the talk. Design Transformation pushes towards true participatory design where constant prototyping and user testing are key.
How can businesses leverage design transformation.

Why are leading companies using Design Transformation?

We can group motivations for change into two broad categories: reactive and proactive.

There are companies who are slowly adopting elements of Design Thinking as a forced reaction to what they’re seeing around them. Either through peer pressure – they see other companies adopting design-focused strategies and don’t want to be left behind – or simply because a continuous dip in profits and results prove their old approach isn’t working.

The other group is ahead of the wave. They’ve identified Design Transformation as the ultimate result-boosting, future-proofing strategy, and are have already rolled it across the board. 

A rigorous study by the Design Management Institute paints a vivid picture of this divide:

  • Companies adopting a comprehensive design focused approach are still in the minority - only 15 out of the top 75 in the US. 
  • Those 15 ahead-of-the-wave companies enjoy a radical advantage in the market – outperforming the rest by 228% over a 10 year period.
Graph of design value of design-driven companies that outperform S&P by 228% over ten years - showing why is design transformation valuable for businesses.
Graph of design value of design-driven companies that outperform S&P by 228% over ten years - The Design Management Institute

So why does Design Transformation provide such profound business results? Three main reasons:

  • Minimizes waste, and maximises what you can do with limited time and budget. 
  • Guarantees results and cuts risk, because user validation is built into the process, rather than tacked on at the end.
  • Ensures sustainability for the long term – incorporating rinse and repeat processes that self-adapt to changes in customer needs and behaviour.

(You may be thinking, ‘sounds great, but what about the recession’. Actually, studies show that innovative thinking becomes even more important in times of crisis – read all about it here)

How to implement Design Transformation in business 

Successfully implementing Design Transformation requires buy-in from leadership, dedicated resources, and - most importantly - a willingness to embrace change. Here are some tips for ensuring your transformation efforts get off on the right foot: 

Start small

Transformation can be daunting, especially for large organizations with complex product portfolios. To avoid overwhelm, start by piloting your new approach with one product or one team. This allows you to work out any kinks, and collect valuable data and insights, before rolling out company-wide changes.

Appoint a leader

Choose a respected forward-thinker who will champion transformation within the organization, and ensure everyone is held accountable for objectives. 

Team is implementing Design Transformation process through workshop session to unlock collaborative intelligence.

Build a cross-functional team

Remember that it’s only transformation if it’s across the board. Your team should include representatives from all parts of the organization - from engineering, to marketing, to design, to customer service.

Focus on culture

Creating a culture that supports innovation is essential for making your transformation stick. Employees only feel safe to take risks, experiment and challenge defaults if the company makes those values clear – both through shared language and processes, and in everyday practice. Decision makers and managers must lead by example. 

Set aside time for reflection

Reflection is key to ensuring your team remains focused on common goals. Schedule regular check-ins where team members can share their progress, challenges, and successes, free from judgment or point-scoring. 

Invest in training

The gateway to any meaningful transformation is education, powered by expert help and mentorship. Workshops on topics like user research, rapid prototyping or team collaboration get to the root of transformation by design, and equip your brightest brains with the tools to put your organization ahead of the wave. 

This way, you set off a butterfly effect of innovative thought that organically spreads throughout your organization. An exponential return on investment.

Because change doesn’t happen overnight, but it’s always smoother if it comes from within.

The gateway to any meaningful transformation is education, powered by expert help and mentorship

Real-Life Examples of Design Transformation Success

To further illustrate the power of design transformation, let's take a look at two real-life examples that showcase its impact on business success:

  1. Airbnb: Airbnb went through a major design transformation, which played a significant role in the company's meteoric rise. By adopting a customer-centric approach and involving users in the design process, Airbnb created a seamless and enjoyable experience for hosts and guests alike. The platform’s intuitive interface and focus on user satisfaction allowed it to surpass traditional hotel chains and reshape the hospitality industry.
  2. Ford Motor: The company revitalized its business by adopting design transformation principles, focusing on creating a better customer experience. By incorporating user feedback and collaborating across departments, Ford was able to develop innovative vehicles like the Ford Fusion and the all-electric Mustang Mach-E, redefining the brand and re-establishing its position in the automotive industry.
  3. Philips: A global technology company, transformed itself by emphasizing design and innovation in healthcare solutions. By utilizing design thinking and collaborating with healthcare professionals, Philips created patient-centered products, such as the IntelliVue patient monitoring system, which improved both patient outcomes and user experience for medical staff.
  4. Nike: The shoe company has always been a leader in product innovation, but the company took it a step further by incorporating design transformation principles into their business strategy. Their commitment to a strong focus on user-centered design and collaboration has allowed them to maintain a dominant position in the sports apparel and footwear market, as well as expanding into technology-driven products like the Nike+ ecosystem.

Overcoming Common Challenges in Design Transformation

Embarking on a design transformation journey is not without its challenges. Here are a few common obstacles businesses face and how to overcome them:

Gaining Executive Buy-In

One of the primary challenges in initiating design transformation is gaining buy-in from executive leadership. To convince decision-makers of the value of design transformation, present case studies, and tangible results from other successful companies. Highlight the long-term benefits, such as increased customer satisfaction, reduced waste, and sustained growth.

Overcoming Resistance to Change

Employees may be resistant to change, especially when it comes to adopting new processes and methodologies. Address this issue by creating a culture of open communication and continuous learning. Provide training and resources to help employees understand the value of design transformation and how it will benefit both the organization and their individual roles.

Measuring success of design transformation can results in reducing time to market for new products or services.

Measuring the Success of Design Transformation

To ensure the ongoing success of your design transformation initiative, it's essential to track key performance indicators (KPIs) that reflect your organization's goals. Some possible KPIs to consider include:

  • Customer satisfaction scores
  • Time to market for new products or services
  • Reduction in product development costs
  • Increased cross-departmental collaboration

Regularly reviewing these KPIs can help you identify areas for improvement, celebrate successes, and demonstrate the value of design transformation to stakeholders.

The Key Takeaways

In a nutshell, Design Transformation is more than just a buzzword; it's a future-proof business strategy with a proven track record of success. By fostering a culture of innovation and collaboration, businesses can not only survive but thrive in an ever-changing landscape.

As we've seen from the success stories of companies like Airbnb, IBM, PepsiCo, and Nike, investing in design transformation can lead to increased customer satisfaction, reduced waste, and sustained growth. These organizations have understood the value of embracing change and have reaped the rewards of adapting their strategies to focus on the end-user.

However, embarking on a design transformation journey is not without challenges. It requires a shift in mindset, strong leadership, and a commitment to continuous learning and improvement.

Now is the perfect time to equip your key players with training in design thinking, innovation, problem-solving, and decision-making, and transform the way your organization works. Take the leap and be a leader in this dynamic business environment.

The potential rewards far outweigh the risks, and those who dare to embrace this approach will undoubtedly set themselves apart from the competition. So, as we move forward in an increasingly competitive and dynamic business environment, the choice is yours:

Will you invest in design transformation and lead the way, or risk being left behind by clinging to outdated processes and strategies?

And more importantly, can you afford not to seize the opportunity to reshape your organization for the better?