I remember that I first read about design-driven culture in the year 2015, in this McKinsey post. In the following years I read few more stories about design-maturity in the product teams, and that design was becoming the key driver even in the organization’s decisions.
Design-driven meant that design was central to their digital and technology investments. Scott Cook of Intuit shares their story of how Intuit became a design-driven organization, by incremental focus on design in different ways.
Design thinking, design culture, and design-driven also means that many product teams are hiring more designers so that they can give due focus to the process, methodologies, and the product culture. The hiring market for the roles in UX, design, UX writing, and in content design also shows this design-driven product sentiment.
Design-driven means a lot more than design itself
When we see success stories of how design-thinking helped an organization grow, we must remember that it worked for them not only because of design culture or design thinking. They had a lot of digital maturity, operational clarity, and business acumen to support their design thinking methods and frameworks for the business advantage.
Design is not meant to be the default in the leadership, or in the branding. Look at Stripe—I always saw them an engineering-driven organization but they have an amazing sense of design in the product.
For many organizations, being design-driven does not necessarily mean that their leaders are prepared for the strategic or market-driven constraints that bring uncertainty, new pivots, or new growth levers for the organization. For example, these can be changing the consumer sentiment, shifting personal motivations of the leaders, changes in the market because of a policy or a competition, and so on.
If you take care of the system, design takes care of itself.
Collective intelligence and design
If the organization’s growth shows collective intelligence, design-driven should be a given by now.
Such organizations work on the foundations around the systems for whatever binds and connects the teams on their way forward, even if wrapped in design culture. For example, what makes the teams adopt to changes in product goals, how they stick to the business goals and to the product vision. How they respond to the internal and external escalations, and how their work responds to the organization’s trajectory, its sentiment, and its concerns.
If we focus on being design-driven, our vision might be limited to the customer-centricity (with due respect to the HCD libraries and bootcamps). If we take design-driven to be the means for our real goals, we might see the bigger picture a lot more clearly.
I am not sure I agree with this statement—”Everything is designed” that I see around sometimes. There is a default structure, information flow, and interpretability in many systems that need to be processed for validation and consumption.
Design is the underlying assumption in making this structure work.
So if you look at the organization whom you really think that they are design-driven, design is secondary in their work. The internalized incentives and the alignment to take the product vision and the brand narrative forward, are the key drivers there.