In businesses these days, software design is emphasized more than the development of the software itself. Design is in high demand across all industries because of both its technical results and the mentality and process behind it, a form of design-thinking if you will, that breeds innovation, growth, and, ultimately, success.
To give that rather bold statement some context, consider the fact that design has actually been at the forefront of public discussion since 1975, when design surpassed both science and engineering by frequency of each term’s appearance in published books and the New York Times, according to a recent post in the Oxford University Press.
So why is there a growing focus on design? In large part, it is because businesses are now devoting their resources to the customer. 89% of companies believe that customer experience will be the biggest field of inter-business competition in 2016, compared to only 36% four years ago. In short, businesses are expecting to fight over who treats their customers best. The majority of businesses think this fight is important because their own data tells them that customers are in fact getting more picky. In 2015, 82% of customers admitted to dropping a company’s product because of bad customer service.
How do businesses provide a better experience to please demanding clients?
The answer is design. With the advent of modern technology, design has become the primary channel of communication between a service and its user because design impacts a product at every layer. Take a look at great UX design portfolios and you’ll see that design affects how the product functions, how it can be navigated, how it looks, and how the user feels. Design’s main goal is that the user is able to get what they need from a service or product as easily and as quickly as possible.
This ease of use is a great asset to young startups trying to enter a crowded market, so it’s no surprise that startups are ahead of the trend with hiring designers early and adopting a design-focused approach. Just picture a successful startup’s webpage. It’s manicured, beautiful, informative, and usable. In short, these startups are well-designed. In fact, according to Venture Capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB), designers co-founded 36% of the top 25 funded startups, up from 20% in 2015, a significant increase that shows little sign of slowing down. Yet tech-oriented startups aren’t the only ones keeping their eyes on design.
Big enterprise businesses are putting a greater emphasis on design as well.
Enterprise software newcomer Farewell is making waves by ignoring traditional enterprise practices, instead offering a sleek supply logistics software designed for easy and intuitive use. Compare that to traditional enterprise software that is sold primarily on the basis of how many bells and whistles a product has, and you can imagine why Farewell is growing so quickly.
In Fast Company’s interview with Peter Nilsson, the Farewell founder remarked, “people don’t have time or interest if something is too complex or painful to use...warehouse workers need good UX [design], too.”
While some big businesses are bringing better design to their product by changing their values, others are simply expanding and hiring designers, or entire firms for that matter. Since 2004, 42 design firms have been acquired by larger companies, according to the KCPB report. The interesting part? Around half of those acquisitions occurred in the last year alone.
But the importance of design expands beyond software.
It’s about the designer’s mentality and process. Design-thinking is a specific approach to a product or service that focuses on customer empathy, identifying solutions and end-goals for consumers and streamlining the path to those ends. The process of design allows for innovation by utilizing a mentality of “fail fast, then iterate.” If you’re building a website and don’t know the best navigation structure for it, designers create a model and let users try it. What works stays; what doesn’t is discarded. This process enables a fluidity that few other business cycles have, one in which ideas are tested in the real world, not in a controlled setting.
People have become so enamored by design-thinking and its success in the business world that you can find design-thinking bootcamps happening all over the world. Even kids are being taught design-thinking in school at a very young age. The hope is that innovation and creativity are no longer intrinsic qualities, but ones that can actually be learned and strengthened. As a result of this expansion, a design-forward stance has evolved in industries outside of tech.
It no longer matters what industry you are in; design is crucial to success. When Oxford University Press can make a legitimate argument over whether design-thinking can replace the scientific method, businesses would be foolish not to have a designer on their team to provide a way of thinking that challenges the primary means of achieving breakthroughs in the past millennia. Whether it’s healthcare or education, startups or enterprise, design and design-thinking are clearly here to stay.