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You hired some star designers. Great! Now what?

Memo to the C-suite: Lean into design thinking, building and communication as core to your leadership team.

Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit - Day 2
Apple's chief design officer Jony Ive helped make mobile devices become the center of our connected lives.
Kimberly White/Getty Images

Innovative tech companies know that great technology and marketing will get you partway to success. Great design — and talented designers — must be central to your company to truly unlock the power of your strategy and deliver experiences of massive value and delight for your customers.

Most companies haven’t taken the steps to become "design-driven" — embedding design into the heartbeat of corporate culture.

There’s a level of design excellence expected from all major consumer tech products these days — and creating these exceptional products requires designers to be leveraged in two fundamental ways. First, design uses creativity to solve the biggest most strategic opportunities. Second, design defines and delivers crafted, addictive product experiences. So enable your designers to expose your company’s value and offerings.

Why? It’s simple: Getting design right delivers bottom-line results for your business. However, it first requires you to invite and embrace design to be "at the table" of your boardroom.

Apple, Google, Airbnb and Intuit, to name just a few, all know that great design is a key strategic capability. Design is what makes a mobile device become the center of your connected life. It’s what makes finding the right place to stay on a trip become an adventure of a lifetime.

The majority of companies haven’t taken the steps to become "design-driven" — embedding design into the heartbeat of corporate culture. If you’re among them, here are three reasons that it’s crucial for design to be core to your company C-suite:

Parlez-vous design?

Do you speak design? If not, then you need a strong design leader to help evangelize and elevate the impact of design. At Intuit, design starts with deep customer empathy — understanding their pains, behaviors, emotions and stories. Communicating customer empathy at every stage of our product development creates emphasis and action.

Driving design-thinking to permeate a culture is about educating executives and employees so they are comfortable with a different methodology that includes:

  • Leveraging creative problem solving as a method to crack the biggest strategic initiatives
  • Visualizing and talking about what customers feel and love
  • Embracing product decisions that can’t be measured by numbers but rather by emotion and social fervor

Strategy: Disruption requires vision and action

Design applies creative thinking and problem solving to both current and disruptive business problems. Your design team should be part of short-term and long-term strategic decisions. Empower your designers to provide strategic muscle that drives a business forward and unlocks disruptive innovation

Designers think from the outside-in. They can give a traditional C-level executive a more diversified point of view for solving business problems.

Design must be core to exploring, defining and delivering the "ideal state" of a strategy and a product. How will this deliver massive customer benefit? Designers use our expertise to prototype, iterate and build this ideal future state so all team members can experience it in concrete ways (not words). This is key to accelerating team alignment and galvanizing an organization toward a common outcome.

And a company that embraces design-thinking embraces the tenet, "fall in love with your customer problem (not your solution)." Once embraced, you’d be amazed what engineers, marketers, customer care, design teams, etc., can come up with when everyone thinks beyond their own function and instead focuses on how to best solve a customer’s problem. Why is it important? If you solve customer problems with great experiences, revenue and sales will follow.

Getting from inside-out to outside-in

Your senior team is probably comprised of experts in business, engineering and marketing, etc. — executives who tend to focus on resources, costs, revenue targets — all things measurable.

Designers think from the outside-in. They can give a traditional C-level executive a more diversified point of view for solving business problems, balancing here-and-now pragmatism with that of customer-centric, future-based conceptual scenarios.

At Intuit, design provokes thinking about how we focus on making tax prep obsolete — utilizing technology and data assets in new, innovative ways, making it possible to turn the mundane into delight. We do this, along with our internal partners, to serve our customers and their needs.

Any successful tech company needs to be humble — think customer-first, outside-in. Your design team can help you do that. It won’t be easy to break through language and thinking barriers, but it will change your culture — and improve your bottom line.

Kurt Walecki is the vice president of TurboTax design at Intuit. He joined the company in 2012, after a 12-year stint at Nokia, where he was most recently head of design and portfolio strategies. This year alone, Intuit's TurboTax sold 33.9 million units, a growth of 12 percent from the previous year. Reach him at @kanty.

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