Digital Transformers Elevate Design

May 7, 2019 Richard Seroter


What's the most poorly designed thing you come across on a regular basis? For me, it's hotel showers. Awkward layouts and baffling mechanics make me question everything I know. Of course, you may answer this question with something broader, like the design of the car-buying process, or onboarding new employees.

Using technology to engage with customers is a key part of digital transformation. And not just any technology, but simple, useful technology. For large enterprises, this means taking a fresh look at the design discipline. That's not just smart, but necessary for success.


Design Matters

Design impacts your revenue, cost, and time to market, according to new research from InVision. Similarly, the experts at McKinsey found that “the potential for design-driven [business] growth is enormous in both product-and service-based sectors.” Design can be a significant differentiator in your attempt to attract and keep customers. Let's take a real-life example: In 2017, Liberty Mutual didn't let customers buy motorcycle insurance online. They wanted to change this. Their hypothesis was that if they invested in their online channel, it would lead to more sales. Instead of a lengthy requirements phase led by business leaders, the team followed a customer-centric design approach. They listened, experimented, collected feedback, and iterated. Within weeks they had a product worth launching, and saw an impressive conversion rate. Their design activities focused not only on the UI or layout—but the entire customer experience. Often, Pivotal’s designers help our customers realize that the right research can help determine what the product becomes. At Liberty Mutual, they learned that asking about the motorcycle (year, make, and model) before asking for the customer's name increased the completion rate. This is real, bottom-line impact, all thanks to a design focused approach.

Read more of the Liberty Mutual story here.


What Design is NOT

I know what comes to your mind when you hear the word "design." You immediately think of well-dressed free spirits who love coffee. While there's obviously an artistic, creative component to design work, it's more than just color schemes and page layouts.

Design also isn't something you outsource. You don't hand over responsibility to an outside agency to craft your new website or service and then toss their giant PowerPoint presentation to your development team to use as their guide. Nor is "design" a phase of the project lifecycle staffed by an isolated team within your organization.

Design is about creating products and services that people want to use. It requires a deep understanding of the customer’s needs, broad knowledge of the business, and ongoing collaboration with product teams. You’ve seen good, and bad examples of this. Shields Health Solutions studied why patients didn’t stick with their treatment plans, and designed software that simplified the process. The results are striking. Unfortunately, bad design is still prevalent. You see this in office productivity suites, online forms, and mobile apps. In so many cases, we use technology that feels like it was designed by people who never talked to a human being, or understood the job to be done.

What Good Design Looks Like

Good design is user-centered. It orients the product around the user instead of trying to change the user to fit the product.

Good design is driven by empathy. Designers build deep understanding of user motivation and needs. They use observation and active listening to accurately represent the customer's viewpoint.

Good design is evidence-based and methodical. It's not about gut-feel. Effective designers use first-party or third-party data and observations in their research. They use proven practices for exploration, hypothesis validation, and usability studies. They employ questionnaires, user flows, wireframes, and prototypes as descriptive artifacts.

Good design is non-stop. Designers are leaders who work alongside software team members to define MVPs, prioritize stories, iterate on UI/API/service design, and relentlessly advocate for users. Good design takes a look at the overall ecosystem and ensures the solution has a positive impact on other systems. It constantly evaluates the total customer experience.


Scaling the Design Discipline

How can you infuse the entire company with a design mentality? I'd suggest you consider your staffing, your artifacts, and your commitment.

To truly adopt a design discipline and become customer-centric, you'll want to have senior leaders who embrace this journey. That might mean hiring new people to champion the change. You may have in-house staff ready to step up into design leadership roles. It’s key to have those individuals learn how to speak in terms that the business understands and values. And your leaders must be committed to measuring the impact of design and defining the objectives and key results (OKRs) that are aligned with the goals of the business. Either way, invest in people and training, as this is not just a title change for your business analysts or developers.

To improve adoption rates of any change within a company, you need a mechanism to scale. That may be in the form of design artifacts that people can easily learn from and use. One example? Design systems, sometimes referred to as style guides. Invest in a pattern library, shared set of style sheets, and other tools that make it easy for teams across the company to adopt a common look while avoiding duplication. Also consider centralizing artifacts such as research guidelines, or steps to conduct usability studies.

Finally, you need to broadcast your commitment. It means elevating design leaders to senior positions in the organization. It means using every opportunity to remind staff of accessibility needs and customer outcomes. It means making design an integral, required part of each software project and product. And it means communicating to everyone that you care about outcomes, not just features.

When you're good at design, you reduce risk. You have a better likelihood of shipping products and services that people actually want to pay for. The proof is there for the likes of Liberty Mutual and Shields Health Solutions. Pivotal has been at the forefront of helping enterprises design useful software, and we can do it for you too.

About the Author

Richard Seroter

Richard Seroter is the VP of Product Marketing at Pivotal, a 12-time Microsoft MVP for cloud, an instructor for developer-centric training company Pluralsight, the lead editor for cloud computing, and author of multiple books on application integration strategies. As VP of Product Marketing at Pivotal, Richard heads up product, partner, customer, and technical marketing and helps customers see how to transform the way they build software. Richard maintains a regularly updated blog ( on topics of architecture and solution design and can be found on Twitter as @rseroter.

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