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BLOG:Making Design Stick

Making Design Stick

At this point, everyone has heard about the value of design. Whether it’s through some case study about the iPod or a workshop introducing human-centered design, most who are involved in making decisions about our products or services understand that good “design” and a good experience are required for success in the marketplace today.

Yet as firms rush to adopt design thinking, many are running into problems making design work within their organization. Maybe you’ve launched a really nice iPhone application but can’t replicate the same experience on your website or with your physical product. Maybe you succeeded in launching a full-scale redesign of the website, then five years later it’s feeling dated but is too far reaching to easily replace it. Maybe all the executives in your company are on board in theory, but there’s still something elusive about actually making design work in practice.

If any of this sounds familiar, rest assured, you’re not alone. Across every vertical we’ve worked in we see many organizations making the move toward human-centered design and running into these same challenges along the way. Here are a few tips for getting your organization moving in the right direction and making design stick.

Establish Responsibility

Who owns the customer experience in your organization from the top down, and how are they empowered to enforce its consistency across every touch point you have with a customer? Someone must have full responsibility for the customer experience, or else it’s likely to get dispersed among everyone (or worse, no one.) While it’s true that at some point everyone in your organization is responsible for ensuring your customer has a good experience, this doesn’t negate the need for one primary point person. Comparatively, you could say that at some point everyone is responsible for revenue, yet you wouldn’t use that as a justification for working without a CFO.

In many firms, this centralized customer experience role takes the form of a Chief Experience Officer or CXO. Establishing this role is a good first step, but now you need processes built around the CXO to enable them to properly enforce standards around design and experience. In short, you need a user experience governance model.

Create a User Experience Governance Model

There’s no one-size-fits-all governance model for UX, just as there isn’t for technical governance or financial governance. Governance models are built around the complexity of the firm, the products it produces, and the relationships it has with its customers.

Governance is basically comprised of two activities: 1) architecture or planning, and 2) oversight or enforcement. When considering a CX governance model, a good starting point is to examine the other architecture and oversight activities performed in your organization. Map these processes out and consider where and how customer experience should mirror them.

If your organization is a technology company, pay particular attention to technical architecture processes. Typically the CTO in your organization will have a well-defined governance model that customer experience can mimic. Lead UX professionals (an “Experience Architect” of sorts) should be in place in your product development processes as technical architects, and with power to impact the customer’s experience of the product similar to the technical architect’s control over its underpinnings.

In other companies, especially those manufacturing physical products, it might be more appropriate to consider the role and processes of product management. Product management typically monitors and enforces some set of standards around your products. In these instances, it might be more appropriate to revise existing product governance models to include experience metrics rather than invent a new governance model for CX.

Define the Target

Part of ensuring a consistent and delightful customer experience is ensuring that everyone in your organization understands the experience you intend customers to have. “Experience” can be nebulous and seem silly to define at first, but doing so succinctly and successfully allows an organization to gain cohesion and focus.

Maybe the experience you intend is like meeting with a trusted friend to catch up, or maybe it’s like learning a new game from your grandparent. The goal is to relate the experience in the application with one that your team can relate to and translate into every customer touch point.

As an example, Tina Roth Eisenberg founded an international breakfast club for creatives called CreativeMornings. Each month volunteers in 137 cities around the world host CreativeMornings events for their community. While each team and city are different, Tina instructs hosts to try and make the experience like receiving a gift from a friend. This simple experience target gives hosts from across the globe a simple litmus test when deciding whether or not to include any specific element in their events - can they make it feel like receiving a gift from a friend?

Once you’ve defined an experience target, more traditional CX tools like personas, journey maps, and context scenarios can become valuable. Personas let you know WHO you’re designing for, and while this is a critical component, understanding the experience you’re trying to create for them through the product or service your company delivers is even more important.

Reward Perseverance

Design is readily acknowledged as a creative activity, but where do good creative ideas come from and how can we measure them? Technology pioneer Kevin Ashton (who coined the term “internet of things”) recently published a book digging into the creative process. After reviewing a variety of studies, Ashton concluded that creativity basically boils down to one thing: perseverance. Creative people don’t have better ideas, they just don’t give up until they find one that works. Ashton puts it this way: “Creating is taking steps, not making leaps: find a problem, solve it, and repeat. Most steps wins. The best artists, scientists, engineers, inventors, and other creators are the ones who keep taking steps by finding new problems, new solutions, and then new problems again.”

In internet startup culture this manifests as the mantra to “fail fast.” Failure isn’t the goal and isn’t actually the thing being celebrated, but rather a culture that allows for experimentation, iteration, and, yes, perseverance. If you can create this culture, you will get more creativity and through it, more innovation.

That’s easy enough to say, but how can you go about creating this culture? Much of that depends on the particulars of your organization, and there’s certainly not a “one-size-fits-all” approach to this. One simple starting point most organizations can try is prototyping. Rather than focusing only on large scale product planning and execution exercises, start prioritizing getting feedback on low-cost prototypes. Building prototypes can be simple and cheap, and it sparks enough creative interest in team members to get your culture moving in the right direction. Designers feel empowered and excited at the possibility to quickly produce prototypes and test them with customers. The information you gather through prototyping can then be used to gain buy-in from other parts of your organization and hopefully reduce the cost to plan and execute a product improvement.

Once you’ve mastered prototyping, a culture of perseverance is best created by finding other ways to reduce the cost of experimenting and iterating on your company’s particular product or service. This comes down to process improvements. How can you launch a new website faster? How can you react to customer feedback more quickly? By refining these processes inside of your organization you’ll remove roadblocks to creativity and make design more sticky in your organization.

Give it Time

Making design stick in any organization takes time and is in and of itself a creative undertaking, so perseverance and persistence are essential for success. Give yourself time and iterate as you go.

Hopefully, the tips in this post have given you some tangible ways to get started. Don’t worry about trying to implement all of this at once. If your organization is just getting started on its design journey, perhaps pick only one of these to shoot for next quarter. It won’t be easy, but your customers will thank you for it.