by Pradeep Henry

Design in digital initiatives

Jun 01, 2017
Business IT AlignmentInnovationIT Leadership

What changes should you make to your design approach?

network abstract smaller
Credit: Dell EMC

The boundaries of traditional tech projects were often limited to that of the proposed tech. Designing tech was done from the technical perspective, and increasingly included the user perspective as well. But in today’s digital projects, the boundaries span multiple processes that encompass multiple business elements particularly tech elements. Have we made the needed changes to our design approach?

The change in boundaries means, we need to design at two levels:

1. Integral design

2. Individual design

Integral design

The boundaries of digital projects are defined by what we’ll call a reservoir. We choose the business elements that form a reservoir because they collectively have strategic potential. Integral design then is the innovative design of the reservoir as a single whole. While doing integral design, we also discover powerful technologies and other elements.

The biggest advantage of an integral approach is that we actualize not only the strategic potential earlier identified in the reservoir, but new potential that is possible through innovation and digital technologies. The second advantage is that we avoid recurrence of existing problems. The third advantage is that we avoid unintended degradation of existing related processes.

Individual design

When we’re done designing the whole (reservoir), we’re ready to drill down and work on an individual tech that we just discovered. Here also, there are two levels of design work involved. One is the design of the processes to be encapsulated in the tech. The other is the design of the user interface (UI) architecture. What criteria gets the highest priority while we design the UI architecture depends on whether the processes are business processes or customer processes.

The strategy-driven approach that drives integral design of the reservoir continues to also drive the design of tech. This enables us to actualize the strategic potential available at the tech level.

Design approach

Design as a discipline is pervasive. The discipline is not limited to the design of products, office interiors, and such, but even includes the design of life. Also, some old approaches get duplicated with new branding (for example, the 80s’ user-centric design approach is now having a re-run as design thinking). Result: there are lots of approaches. What should we do?

We should approach design with:

  • The strategy-focused mind-set associated with business model innovation (although we may not be designing a business model)
  • The expertise associated with process innovation (which is otherwise typically efficiency-focused and does not adequately exploit technology)
  • People-sensitivity associated with design thinking (aka user-centric design).

How do we define the scope of innovation in design? Traditionally, process designers have used categories such as “Radical and Light” and “Simple, Moderate, and Re-imagine.” In digital projects, innovation scope should not be based on categories. Instead we should consider how an existing design should change to achieve specific process performance, customer value, and financial performance targets.

Start design work by asking the big questions first, which should be derived from the organization’s strategic objectives or themes. Skype must have asked, “What if voice calls were free over the internet?” That is a great what-if question because soon, Skype had acquired hundreds of millions of registered users. Ask, what specific changes would help generate strategic outcomes? For this, consider things that matter the most to customers (customer value, for example) and to the organization (customer retention, for example).

End note

Before we begin any design work, we should be sure that we’ve discovered stuff that demonstrates strategic potential. It is through such a disciplined approach to discovery-and-design that we translate strategy.