Designing for Digital Transformation — A customer-centric approach

Design is complex, abstract and ambiguous, but can also seem obvious, all at once. However, the value an organisation sees when embarking on a digital transformation is irrefutable.

Recently we hosted a ‘ Put It To The Panel‘ event at Vivant on ‘Designing for Digital Transformation – A customer-centric approach’ where five thought leaders shed some light on what role design plays in enabling businesses to deliver more value to their customers during this digital transformation.

Moderated by Aquent Account & Talent Lead, Bastiaan Storm, our panel included:

While the evening was full of thought-provoking ideas, one of the key takeaways on how to push through the inherent obstacles that accompany digital transformation, and get buy-in from the organisation is through the design process.

Common hurdles and how to overcome them

  • When undertaking a digital transformation, you must first convince your team and organisation that the process is going to drive value. To accomplish this, it is of the utmost importance to understand your funding cycle/expectations from the outset.
  • It is key that people in the organisation understand your role so that all parties can participate in driving the strategy and customer experience. Otherwise, you may risk the exercise being seen as merely tactical or cosmetic.
  • Because large organisations can often cannibalise great thinking, you must also fight to keep forward momentum going, especially in cases where enabling that type of thinking is not the standard operating procedure.
  • Finally, establishing the proper scope can be challenging when the temptation may arise to either try and “boil the ocean” or to implement a strategy that is too small or narrow. As such, managing the way in which digital transformation is conducted is imperative.

Cultural before digital transformation

In order to overcome some of these obstacles, it is vital to first begin changing an organisation’s culture before the true digital transformation can begin.

Too often the purpose and values of the organisation are lost through the traditional design process. Consequently, you must question, question question!

  • What is your purpose?
  • What are the reasons we are here and what are we trying to achieve?
  • Are you measuring the correct variables?
  • What is the language you are using and is it appropriate for the audience?

This is not a 20-minute conversation; rather, this comes from months of work and takes considerable persistence, specifically by the members of the transformation team.

Think strategically

To build buy-in and achieve the desired outcomes, the strategic use of design must be engrained in the senior management. Exploring and understanding the idea of “self-transforming leaders” can actually be more important than worrying about where design should sit.

More people need to be involved in the strategic use of design. Which means most designers need to train as leaders, as we need people who are fighting for our way of working.

As Monique Rappell, Head of Experience Design, Great Ideas Grant @ ABC, clarified,

Designers are great not because they’re designers, but because they can think through ambiguity and leverage ambiguity with purpose. They understand how to deal with complexity. This is what designers do. Design is not about putting lipstick on a pig, it’s about designing the agri-system the pig sits in.

Best practice principles for designing for digital transformation

    Keep it simple says Monique Rappell & Dan Smith
  • Getting a single methodology into one page greatly increases the probability of buy-in
  • Bring people across multiple disciplines into a room and have them involved in the planning process, have them pen their own ideas on a large paper, keep it organic so you can always go back to that piece of paper as the project moves forward
  • Monique Rappel, even suggested that if you can’t explain your project in three words, you’ve failed!
    Collaborate says Gerry and Erietta Sapounakis
  • Dan explained his commitment to always seeking to improve skills in collaboration apart from other operational models
  • Breakdown your vernacular to something the audience better understands
  • Be more pragmatic
    Understand and connect says Kelsey Schwynn
  • Kelsey and other panellists highlighted that we forget stakeholders are people too – understand their fears, concerns, and risks, and tailor the way you are going to talk to them about it.
  • Go for a walk, ask about their worries on a human-to-human level and as you would as part of a design process, have ideas in your back pocket to demonstrate empathy and gain buy-in.

Deakin University: A case study

The speakers provided a plethora of examples of industries and organisations that are leading the way in Digital Transformation. The one that stood out, however, was Deakin University.

First, they focused on both students and staff, attempting to provide a student-centric journey throughout.

The University realised that while many projects were going on simultaneously, many of which had significant value in and of themselves, there lacked a consistent view.

The Vice-Chancellor stepped in, not to put a halt to these projects per se, but rather to encourage the sharing of information. This involved inspiring people to become “coordination experts.”

Some of this involved teaming up with the right strategic partners, for example, IBM and Microsoft. Walking into a meeting is much more efficient when there is consistency: How do I turn on the video screens? Do they connect well?

They also began prototyping for the future by automating AI concierges for their students.

Finally, they are also integrating wellness into everything that they’re doing. Their approach is holistic hence enabling communication across all levels of the organisation. For example, frontline staff have the autonomy to make decisions and then communicate back up the chain of command.

The key takeaway

The key is focusing on ‘designing design’ in an organisation. It is much more than just researching, prototyping and executing. It starts with creating ideological change at every level of your business – from language to the belief system to creating purpose and buy-in from all stakeholders. When these variables are designed to operate in a cohesive manner, transformation of any sort, not just digital, will come to full fruition.


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