In recent years we’ve seen the rise of ‘the design-led company’ – think Apple, Netflix, Airbnb. For these businesses, design actively shapes business strategy, with user experience at the heart of everything they do. It makes perfect sense, as people will only keep buying, subscribing to and engaging with products if they enjoy using them.

However, while design-led success stories abound, there is still huge variation between organisations in terms of how they view and approach the design process.  

Varying design maturity

For me, organisations can be split into five groups in terms of their design maturity.

  • Low maturity – these organisations see design as separate to product development. They create solutions, and then send them to designers to beautify. But pretty does not necessarily mean user friendly and it can result in solutions that look great but just don’t meet customer needs.
  • Limited maturity – designers are part of the team, working alongside product managers and developers but generally in a subordinate role.
  • Moderate maturity – design is on a par with product and technology when it comes to driving strategy.
  • High maturity – UX and design are part of the organisational culture and the executive team fully understands the impact that a great user experience can bring to the business’ bottom line.
  • Maximum maturity – design is intrinsic to the value of the company, with designers forming part of the executive team. The function is key to shaping overall strategy.

While reaching level five is obviously hugely advantageous to companies, there are few who can really claim to have achieved it. I’d say the majority of organisations average out around levels two or three. But taking steps to move through the ranks could unlock significant growth and reap substantial rewards.

The current picture

In 2019, digital product design platform, InVision surveyed 2,200 companies across 24 industries. It found that just 5% were empowering design for the greatest benefits. And these benefits are significant. Nearly all – a whopping 92% – said their design team had a proven impact on their revenue. And 85% said design had helped them save on costs, with over half (52%) reporting it had boosted the company’s valuation too.  

Thinking about the landscape post-pandemic, and the inevitable need to keep an increasingly remote workforce and a more distanced society engaged, it’s going to be even more important for technology businesses to consider their design maturity.

Serving a tech-reliant workforce

Since early 2020, technology has become a real lifeline for many of us – enabling us to keep working, socialising and shopping. This has naturally created huge opportunities for tech businesses; Zoom’s astronomical growth is just one example.

On the flipside, the wealth of technology available to us means that users have options. If a platform doesn’t offer an exceptional experience (the type they get from consumer-grade products such as iOS or Netflix), they just won’t use it.

Enterprise technologies are not immune from consumer expectations. They may be purchased by organisations, but people are still the end users. If they find the user experience wanting, they won’t engage.

That’s why at Darwin, design and UX is a thread running through everything from concept to development.

We work hand-in-hand with product managers and engineers to make sure the platform is easy, responsive, and pleasant to use. This doesn’t necessarily mean removing steps and making tasks as quick as possible to execute – although the latter obviously has its merits. We want to make the browsing experience engaging and useful. This is just as important when people are considering their benefits selection as when they’re looking for something to wear. Everything from colour scheme to layout is carefully considered with users in mind.

A catalyst for progress

As in many sectors, the pandemic has served as a catalyst to progress. Organisations around the world have seen first-hand the power (and pitfalls) of the technology they invest in. As such, there has been a growing focus on and investment in the HR function and employee experience, as seen in Microsoft’s new employee experience platform, Viva. This aggregates employees’ experiences in a single coherent platform, across four key areas: engagement, wellbeing, learning and knowledge. For tech businesses, there’s no doubt that design is rising up the agenda. Business leaders are increasingly understanding that design and UX can make all the difference in whether they sink or swim in a crowded and competitive industry.

Regardless of business area, it’s clear that design cannot be overlooked and exciting changes are on the horizon. Indeed, many are already afoot. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing how user experience and engagement evolve as a result.