Why design should be a priority for consulting services

01 April 2019 Consultancy.uk 7 min. read
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Historically, design thinking hasn’t necessarily been a great priority in the consultancy world and a primary consideration in the boardroom. But it should be, says Lisa Campana, director of design at digital agency Wunderman.

Design isn’t just about making things ‘look pretty’. It’s as business-critical as customer experience, with which it is more tightly aligned than some might think. However, whether for physical products or services, design has become far too siloed within businesses and isn’t seen as a concern for senior management. In a perfect world, design should be a key consideration to be raised with the C-suite as a standard element of the business strategy. 

The recent McKinsey study ‘The business value of design’ attests to this. Ranking companies by their design credentials, McKinsey & Company discovered those with stronger design chops performed better overall. Across a five year period, the top quartile of brands secured 32 percent more revenue growth than competitors, and 56 percent more in total returns to shareholders. 

That tells us the end-to-end design and experience models of a business should be tracked and managed at the highest level, in the same way as finance and operations. Because when they are, it can dramatically boost a client’s performance and profits.

Don’t cut designers out of the loop

Consultancies know that any business operating in silos won’t reach its full potential. Unless designers understand strategic business objectives and KPIs, it’s very unlikely they’ll be able to meet the needs of both internal and external audiences. Therefore true design thinking means smashing the silos to collaborate across all departments. Why design should be a priority for consulting servicesPutting customers first lies at the very core of the design process. Understanding design thinking is therefore everyone’s responsibility, because it permeates every facet of the business. Everyone needs to be on the same page.

After all, a company’s brand is built on everything from the logo to the end product, the PR to the customer service – it’s all intrinsically linked, all affirming what the brand stands for to customers. Understanding what the brand is trying to communicate – the brand personality – is intrinsic to a successful end product. In fact, if the brand mission, vision and purpose don’t align with the end product there’s little chance the audience will connect with that brand as intended. There’s then a further risk that customers may then confer characteristics that do not sit well with the original proposition.  

Hence design and customer experience should be tackled hand in hand, delivering a company’s distinctive feel and identity across every possible touchpoint, so the end-to-end experience is a complete reflection of its brand. Consultancies increasingly advise companies on their brands and their customer experience, so design has to be a key part of that conversation, not left out in the cold.

Daniel Kahneman’s 2010 TED Talk nailed this thinking, implying we have two ‘selves’ in the way we experience things and form memories. For instance, take the experience of shopping online. You could have a good user experience, smooth transaction, and consider shopping on that site again. However, if your order was two weeks late, the item was damaged and the customer service team was rude, the memory you take from the overall shopping experience is negative and  it’s highly unlikely you’ll become a repeat customer. 

These factors will come to define your relationship with that brand, so the design experience should go beyond just the website. This is something many businesses still don’t get.

Design communicates how a business would like to be perceived

It’s integral to focus on the key touchpoint for a business – the thing it’s actually known for – rather than deliver a mediocre experience across all bases or fail in another area. Customer perceptions are everything, and this is the same for multinationals and local businesses – you’re obviously going to question the professional credentials of a solicitor’s office with a chaotic website offering legal advice in Comic Sans. 

This has a huge impact on where people take their custom and where design comes into its own: what the brand values should be, what makes customers engage with the brand and so on.

“Historically, design thinking hasn’t necessarily been a great priority in the consultancy world. But it should be.”
– Lisa Campana, Wunderman

With a private healthcare provider, for example, the design and feel should be trustworthy, knowledgeable, inviting, empathetic. That’s what customers will want from a brand that’s potentially saving their life, and it’s not just about the website’s interface. Again, it’s the end-to-end experience and design of the brand – customer service, the doctors themselves and so on.

The landscape has changed

Back in the day, businesses had carte blanche to set the agenda and customers would follow. But now, with price often trumping loyalty, people have a wealth of choice. A saturated market means businesses must listen to and work with their customers, in a constant feedback loop to improve services across the board. After all, we live in the call-out generation. People will let a business know, through a whole host of social media platforms, exactly what they think of it. Sometimes politely, sometimes… not so much. 

If lots of them are saying the same thing, the company needs to listen. It means that something in its end-to-end process isn’t right – it has the chance to make a change, but that has to come from an authentic place. It’s easy for businesses to dismiss social media as the herd mentality, whereas they should see it as the wisdom of the crowd. Often it’s up to the consultant to raise this as an objective party.

Embedding design thinking

As the McKinsey report showed, quantitative measurement and analytical rigour are not impossible when it comes to design. And so, consultancies should be looking at how to implement better practice in 2019 and beyond. There are a few simple steps to bear in mind:

  • Involve the design team from the beginning. My team and I are often involved in new business pitches to get a feel for the brand well before they’re on board. Consultancies can take a leaf from that book.
  • Encourage multiple departments to collaborate. Branding has to be 100%, from strategy to data to design. The C-Suite should be involved, yes, but not exclusively. Everyone plays their part.
  • Don’t start with the thinking, then make it ‘look nice’ afterwards. Businesses that think that way are doing the design – and the thinking – a disservice.

Design is so much more than whether a product looks appealing and if the box is easy to open. It encompasses services, business strategy and the entire customer experience, and should therefore be treated with the same level of consideration as any other business-critical process. Consultants and the C-suite alike would do well to take a step back and think about what design can really offer. 

Related: How design thinking can help build a successful strategy.