Designing for Qualities and Quantities of Your Business


Designing for Qualities and Quantities of Your Business

April 21, 2021
Excerpt from Roger Martin, Rotman on Design

In order to manage successfully, we need to pay attention to things that we can measure but also the feelings and emotions of our customers. In a world where almost any product or service can be purchased online from many different companies, trust is a significant asset for any company. It determines if customers will frequent your digital store or not. It is a qualitative judgment of your customer that impacts business.

Trust is based on the perception that an organization will deliver on a promise to do or provide something. Traditionally, people (salespeople, support staff, managers, etc.) provided the basis for trust. As businesses go digital, there are fewer human touchpoints and interactions with customers. 

Businesses know that things like engagement, trust, and attachment are important to success.  

Figure 1: Factors impacting engagement, trust and attachment. 

However, they are difficult to measure and very hard to create on a large scale. A number of fields of study train people to think through more qualitative ideas and concepts. Fields of study such as architecture, industrial design, and interior design. As large companies and organizations find themselves designing for qualitative elements of experiences they are trying to adapt people and tools from other disciplines. 

On the people side, designers have been invited inside business conference rooms. The role that designers play in these large organizations is to articulate, converse, discuss, and reason about the “qualities” that are important for success. I worked for several years at IBM designing enterprise systems and saw large companies like IBM change from a front seat. In 2012 IBM hired one designer for every 72 engineers. Only five years later, in 2017, IBM hired one designer for every eight engineers. A significant change that reflected the importance of the design role for the business. See the graph below for other large companies that also brought more designers into the conference room.  

Figure 2: Designer to developer hiring target ratios (Source)

On the tool’s side, we now use many new design-inspired tools and frameworks. For example, business meetings that gather multiple perspectives onto a single sketch are commonplace now. These meetings can be traced back to design charettes⸺a short, collaborative meeting during which members of a team quickly collaborate and sketch designs to explore and share a broad diversity of design ideas. The idea for design charrettes (from the French word charrette meaning “chariot” or “cart”) is believed to have derived from stories of architectural students in Paris in the 1800s. As the story goes, students’ exams were collected in a charrette, and some of these student groups continued to madly sketch together as their designs were being gathered for evaluation.

By bringing new people and tools into the business environment, we are systematically designing at scale for customer emotions and other qualitative dimensions.  It is the way business needs to adapt to the lack of success with quantitative models only. Businesses are learning to interpret the observable patterns in data and the feelings and emotions of their users when making important business decisions. 

Photo by Giulia May on Unsplash


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