Why your company needs to prioritise design-led innovation

Design-led innovation is the driver for companies to meet the demand of the Experience Economy Era.

It has been a while since the Great Age of Discovery in the software industry ended. Today, most of the needs that can be fulfilled by software have been met.

Besides being much cheaper and having greater performance and reliability, genuinely modern technologies have in common very special features that differentiate them from old-school ones:

  • Inclusiveness—i.e. a much wider audience is supposed to use the technologies as much fewer prerequisites (both knowledge and abilities) are required from a person to start gaining advantages from a product.
  • Omnipresence—a tighter bond to the person and their processes rather than to particular devices software runs on, session states and other tech terms.
  • Consistency—so that if a person knows how to use some products, it won’t be hard to get used to another one.
  • Positiveness—so that the user is not accused if something goes wrong, and is politely but firmly guided to get things done in the right way.

All that comes down to design.

Design, in its broader sense, bridges the vast gap between “A relevant product exists” and “I use it easily, efficiently and in an enjoyable way.” Design-led innovation is the driver for companies to meet the demand of the Experience Economy Era.

Why design-led innovation is critical to business growth

For most requirements, customers may be already using solutions that might be clunky, ugly and inefficient, but they do work. With that in mind, it can be counterproductive to continue expanding the feature list when we should be focusing on good design instead.

As an example, when we were planning a new major version of our product Objective Trapeze, we spoke to end-users to find out what they wanted. The research revealed that most of them would prefer us to perfect the existing features rather than introduce brand-new ones. In order to grow, our product needed to provide a perfectly designed, enjoyable way to complete a list of particular tasks.

Sometimes, those experience design improvements involve sophisticated technologies, e.g. computer vision, cloud data processing, etc. However, we employ them not just “because we can” or because machine learning is the latest hype technology. We use them because, for that specific task (say, auto-stamping the plans using optical patterns recognition), it removes tens of repetitive clicks, reduces error rates and makes the perception of the process positive.

Trendy technologies aren’t going to become, nor should they be perceived as new features. They are just a way of making a good old tool to be an “awesome” one, and getting that “Wow!” exclamation from customers.

At Objective, we identify bridging the experience gap through design-led innovation as one of our most significant growth drivers.

Sharing responsibility for design-led innovation

It’s not a revolutionary idea that business analysis is an integral part of the product design process. Identifying how people do things and why so, where the inefficiencies are, what constitutes the experience gap—those are traditional parts of both BAs’ and UXs’ daily jobs.

In fact, the boundaries between business analyst, UX designer and product manager are frequently blurred, making healthy co-operation and thoughtful delimitation of responsibilities between those professionals essential for product success.

As such, everyone shares the responsibility of design-led innovation:

  • Finding out what the customer really needs, likes and hates—this usually fiercely differs from what they declare; thus a great variety of techniques is employed to get to the point.
  • Developing hypotheses on possible solutions and validating them with real users.
  • Finding opportunities for an integrated experience because a solution being developed doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
  • Prioritising the findings (and user stories which they imply), balancing between the price of development (workload, duration, money), value for the customer and other user stories which would’ve been developed instead.
  • Crafting the solution design based on the company’s design system, which employs industry standards and best practices while taking into considerations the specifics of the customers’ real-life environment (e.g. government) and has to deal with lots of legacy products, processes, sometimes unhealthy practices and complications of change management.
We know that design isn’t just about making beautiful-looking buttons. We are proud of our holistic approach to creating great experiences, which is what design-led innovation is all about.

Artëm Kamnev

UX Designer at Objective Corporation

How we invest in design-led innovation at Objective

Innovation + design thinking isn’t a separate practice—it is a part of the DNA of a design-driven company.

When somebody asks me, “What’s your design process?” I always say, “It depends.” Each product team has a unique culture and a particular stage of their product’s lifecycle.

At Objective, we invest in the strategic vision of our products. As designers, we are expected to be a year or two ahead of the development:

  • to be able to play with the ideas early, validate them, crystalise and reimagine again and again;
  • to spread the ideas amongst product teams and wait for them to sprout, because some ideas end up in different products from what they have been designed for;
  • to allow product managers to choose for scoring from a greater variety of features.

With our homemade design system, Objective Design Language, we have the luxury to create a lot of mockups with ideas which will never be implemented “as is”—however, they could eventually evolve into some particular solution when the time comes. Although our design system doesn’t look like a polished brand-book, it evolves with our company, customers and market trends.

Objective is great as a company where if you have something to say, you’ll be heard, and with respect. However, it is not that kind of democracy where the weight of a voice depends on its loudness—while allowing everybody to have a say, we weigh the voices with an acknowledgement of the person’s professional expertise in the area being discussed. That is a rare but essential benefit for the design team, especially because of our responsibility to question the status quo and change imperfect things even if they have been around for decades.

Needless to say, flexible working hours, the opportunity to work from home when deep concentration is needed, nice equipment, and last but not least, state-of-the-art modern office design with breathtaking panoramic views, are all great drivers of creativity.

We know that design isn’t just about making beautiful-looking buttons. We are proud of our holistic approach to creating great experiences, which is what design-led innovation is all about.