Making organisations human
Every so often you get the chance to pull out of the trenches and reflect on what is happening in the fast-paced world of designing products, services and systems for organisations. I’ve pulled together some thoughts on the overall effect I am seeing we have on businesses as we conduct these design projects.
I get asked every so often what it is that I do as an 'experience designer'. With projects as varied as defining new consumer products to bring to market, through to developing digital platforms for bankers, the field of experience design covers a lot of territory. But one way of thinking about it that has stuck with me over the years is the idea of "reintroducing organisations to their customers".
Every new organisation starts by meeting some form of customer need. It then develops a way to consistently meet that need over time through the profitable delivery of a product or service. After getting established, the business usually sets about optimising the delivery of these products & services, making more products & services, and growing the customer base.
Over time however, the people working within their different parts of the growing organisation (marketing, engineering, sales, management, etc), become more and more unable to maintain a clear sense of the customer need the organisation was setup to meet. There are everyday demands in their roles: meetings, emails, angry customers, angry workmates, server crashes, job transitions and new workmates. These things take center stage in employee’s minds as they do their work. It becomes increasingly difficult to get their head around the complexity of their role, let alone the complexity of how the whole organisation works together to meet the needs of customers.
Complexity and change is everywhere.
Which brings us back to customers, and their needs. These needs change over time as they start using new technology, make changes to their lifestyle, move with either fashion or trends, shift their perspectives or adapt to developments in the economy. These changes are often so subtle or related to their broader ecosystem that customers wouldn't even know how to articulate them. It’s commonly a new player offering a new product or way of interacting that makes them realise there is a better way to meet their needs, so they switch. This is fine for the new organisation, but not the existing one who has worked so hard to serve the customers well up to that point.
Organisations need ways of staying close and adapting to these changing customer needs.
Design is the study of how people create. Over the last few decades there has been a convergence of the field of design with social sciences like anthropology and ethnography. This has helped designers get into both the articulated and unarticulated needs of people to design solutions to serve them better.
Which is why I use the phrase "reintroducing organisations to their customers". It’s not that organisations don't know their customers; it’s just that their customers have changed in subtle ways that even the customers themselves don't know how to communicate. Design methods identify these new needs and respond to them with new products and services.
Over time, organisations that engage in design methods can deepen their capacity to meet the changing needs of their customers, and also meet the changing needs of the people who come to work everyday. Adapting to people, making the organisation more human.
Over the course of the next few posts, I want to illustrate some of the lessons we've learned in our work in the trenches of design projects. I’m going to look at what it means for customers, for employees, and executives, to make an organisation more human.
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