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“We invested 2 million and six months in this application. We got the best team of engineers. We didn’t cut corners on testing. But the app is failing miserably.” moans the CIO. “The users just don’t seem to get it!”

Sounds familiar?

Bad user experience is oftentimes that elephant in the room of product/company failures. It is skeptically viewed upon as the “indulgent luxury”, “last to be done, first to be cut down”, “I’m not going to spend millions investing in a good color scheme, show me the numbers!”
However, that elephant has grown too big to be ignored, and is being ardently wooed across industries. Why? Because bad user experience is bad for business,especially in this age of the digital customer. It is said that satisfied customers tell three others, dissatisfied ones tell 3000, but with social media, you’re talking millions in good/bad publicity. With the stupendous growth in internet usage, mobile connectivity and e-commerce, you can’t afford to snub the 70% of customers who abandon purchases because of bad user experience. (Gartner).
The flip side thankfully brings with it great tidings – every $1 invested in user experience returns between $10 and $100 shows several leading research results. Good user experience design is awesome for business and is emerging as a leading competitive differentiator.

How does one create gorgeous, intuitive experiences that customers love (and that bring in the moolah)?

Sounds too utopian? Except that it isn’t, because good user experience goes to the very core of every business – creating a product, system or service, that meets the known and (unknown) needs of your customer. Essentially an experience that your user loves to use, is hooked on to and highly recommends.
The companies that are thriving in this age of digital disruption are the ones who are using this intersect of Design and Technology to build a rich, seamless and secure connected lifestyle for their customer.

Let Experience Design Lead Every Aspect of the Product Development Lifecycle.

Over two decades of implementing the practice of user experience in various organizations has taught me that this user-centric mindset has to be well entrenched in the company to be able to reap its awesome benefits. As Steve Jobs puts it succinctly, “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology – not the other way around.”
Design-Led Engineering, is centered round the user and draws heavily on techniques from the designer’s toolkit to guide and inform the development process. Implementing it in an enterprise is no quick ride, but one that can offer transformational benefits. Here are a few pointers I’ve found helpful during my journey helping organizations adopt Design-Led Engineering .

Encourage a Culture of User-Empathy

Take the time and effort to holistically develop an ethos where “designing for the user is on everybody’s mind”. Popularize design thinking within the organization to develop a holistic approach to design that takes inspiration from real people, understands market trends, is grounded to solid engineering practices and considers every product touch-point as an opportunity to surprise, delight and deliver benefits to users.

Align Design Strategy with Business Goals

Closely tie usability with business objectives so the ROI is established and so that it gets strong executive buy-in. This helps to bring in the culture of design across organizational levels, projects and roles.
Hiring or nurturing design champions at the executive level builds enthusiasm, sustains momentum, and most importantly ensures that design thinking is a strategic business initiative (and that includes the funding that goes along it) and not a passing fad.

Cross-pollinate Design and Engineering Teams

The top-down approach of implementing design thinking has to be met along the way with a bottom-up approach. In my experience, joint design workshops such as cross-cluster training and role-swapping is essential to creating a user-centric, design-driven culture. Each role brings in its unique perspective and experiential knowledge to the table, while being unified by the goal of creatively and analytically meeting the user’s needs.

Don’t Wait, Start Implementing

Rapid iterations of ideation, design and prototyping based on feedback is key to getting those tangible results from design. Racing to market with greater levels of functionality isn’t going to ensure dominance; solutions must offer users an intuitive and tailored user interface.
A high-trust environment where rapid, low-cost failure is lauded both helps people to go out on a limb and innovate without fear while also preventing expensive, and embarrassing rollbacks. Getting the product rapidly into the user’s hands provides that all-important feedback that can help you iteratively create an experience you are confident that your user loves.
As proof, one needs to look no further than the success of design-driven companies that span the spectrum of industries from Apple, AirBnB, Pinterest, Google, Amazon and LinkedIn to CapitalOne, P&G, Harley Davidson and Citrix. They have built an unbeatable and sustainable competitive advantage through innovations that do not always come from the same market but rather create new markets. These leaders compete through products and services that have a radical new approach to solve a known or often-times unknown need of the customer. That can only be possible when the business and engineering efforts are entirely focused on designing for the user.
When done well, Design Led Engineering fuels the creation of products that resonate more deeply with your audience — ultimately driving engagement and growth.

This article was originally published on Linkedin


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