Effective design is not the sole preserve of design agencies or software developers, and organisations willing to place design at the centre of their business can steal the march on their competitors. Rob Enslin, Lead Consultant for Experience Design at ThoughtWorks, argues the case for developing a design culture to help businesses achieve success.

User experience is a term that has gained prominence in the age of mobile and enterprise applications, but organisations that restrict their thinking on design to only what their customers see or interact with are missing a real business opportunity.

Broadly speaking, user experience is concerned with designing a process or action that is intuitive and simple. This is probably best illustrated by smartphones and tablets that have revolutionised how we interact with mobile devices.

That attraction is largely due to the user interface, which ultimately translates into a pleasing user experience.

Leaving users satisfied does not happen overnight, nor is the process without its hiccups. What one person considers intuitive may appear simplistic to another. And it is only through iterative improvements to this design that the most successful developers reach the top of their game.

So what do these lessons from the world of software development mean for all businesses?

Organisations need to adopt a design culture which is about far more than sleek-looking products or user interface. Companies like Apple are renowned for their appealing products, but at the core of this philosophy is the commitment to designing processes that leave customers satisfied and the business profitable.

While achieving this state is not easy, there are numerous benefits to organisations that choose to adopt a design culture.

For one, placing the design of processes and products at the centre of the business objectives eliminates silos. This remains one of the biggest obstacles to businesses evolving into 21st Century organisations built around collaboration.

Silos not only contribute to different teams pulling in different directions, they also contribute to duplication and wastage.

Achieving a design culture also demands that it is driven from the top leadership. Unless these principles are instilled at board level, it is near impossible to achieve a cross-organisational view of the business.

Take, for example, a large financial services organisation, like a bank. How many touch points do their customers have with them? And how uniform is the bank’s view of the customer across these touch points? Probably not uniform at all.

By placing design at the centre of everything the bank does, many of these obstacles fall by the wayside.

The question that all companies need to ask themselves is: what is our customers’ experience when interacting with our orgnanisation or products? And, how can we improve that?

There is understandably reluctance by organisations to fiddle wholesale with these processes in order to improve this experience. And rightly so, because indiscriminate action could only lead to disaster.

From our experience in developing software products for many sizeable organisations it is always best to start small. Identify one area of the business that could benefit from efficiencies and improvements. Isolate the problem areas and design solutions to overcome the shortcomings.

The key is to test the solutions – preferably with customers – then continue to test and improve iteratively. No product or service will be perfect from the get-go, and the only way to move toward that goal is to continuously work on improving.

With the lessons and processes from such small-scale interventions, business leaders can then move onto the next problem area in their business to slowly, incrementally achieve their desired state of excellence.