Building a Design-Centric Culture with UXPin’s Marcin Treder


Photo Source: Innovators Under 35, MIT Review

Photo Source: Innovators Under 35, MIT Review.

More and more engineering-focused companies are trying to become design-centric. But wanting a design culture isn’t the same as creating one. It isn’t as simple as saying, “Just use design thinking.”

Companies of all sizes are realizing that software is fundamental to business and design-thinking is the tool that leads to better software. In a time when design strategy and user experience are one in the same, companies are working to become more design-centric.

The move towards design-centric cultures is not always an easy or a straight path. While there is definitely risk involved in making a priority shift, design is emerging at the forefront of many business models.

Marcin Treder, CEO of user experience design platform UXPin, knows a thing or two about creating a design culture. In conjunction with our live stream at General Assembly, Treder took some time to answer our pressing questions about building design-centric cultures.

How would you define “design-centric culture” and why is it so important?

Design is a funny term. Although most people use this word almost every day, the meaning remains dangerously imprecise and confusing. Some people use it to describe things that are aesthetically superior. Some refer to the thoughtfulness of the craft. And others use it to mean things that are “trendy.” This lack of a clear definition makes me wonder what people are really trying to express when they use words such as “design thinking,” “design-centric organization,” and “design culture.”

First of all, great design is deeply human-centric, which can be understood in two ways. First, whenever we’re designing something we have to understand who are we designing for — other humans. Second, we have to collaborate with others who aren’t necessarily designers, such as engineers, marketers, etc. These two reasons are two sides of the same coin: the human touch drives the design and should also propel a design-centric organization.

“The design-centric culture” is a different creature. I would only call a culture design-centric if the leadership lives and breathes design, and is able to effectively communicate its value across the entire company. I’m afraid that’s still rare and is not connected to the amount of dollars spent on the design leadership.

I believe that a design-centric culture leads to the creation of the best products. Better products lead to happier more productive lives. Is there anything more important?

What’s the biggest mistake you think a lot of companies make when first attempting to create a design-centric culture? How can these mistakes be avoided?

The biggest mistake is merely seeing design as the “in” thing that must be implemented immediately, almost as an afterthought. Companies that don’t have design in its DNA can’t just artificially implement a design-centric culture.

An organization and its culture should be authentic. You can’t just call yourself design-driven if you went through a bunch of “design-thinking” workshops after which you continue to ignore user research and quality assurance processes.

Companies should be brutally honest with themselves. They have to ask, do they really care about design or do they want design because it’s the hot thing to do.

A design-centric culture can only emerge from an already existing respect for design. It’s up to an organization’s leadership to make sure everyone understands the value of design.

What 3 pro-tips would you give to a company interested in creating a design culture without any idea where to start?

  1. Be honest with yourself. Does your organization have the right approach to product development, respect for design and the right talent on the team? Everything is easier to fix in a smaller organization, but it’s harder to achieve a paradigm shift in a larger organization. Larger companies should consider starting with a specific division rather than trying to institute a company-wide design culture initiative.
  2. Make design principles present in everything you do. Being truly design-driven means that everything that a company does is centered around solving human problems and providing high-quality solutions.
  3. Share the knowledge about your customers. If you want your people to deeply care about your customers, make sure that they have access to research results and analysis. Make customer knowledge freely available in the company. Make sure that the entire company understands who the core customer is and what problems are you trying to solve.

How does UXPin help to empower companies to focus on design in all aspects of their work?

UXPin covers the entire design process with a layer of collaboration. From ideation phase, through wireframing and prototyping to user testing. UXPin makes every stage in the process collaborative.

We give teams ability to speak one, visual language, which leads them to create great products.

Do you believe that a design culture is achievable for anyone?

Technically, I don’t see a reason why it wouldn’t be achievable for anyone. I need to emphasize though that this change might be extremely hard for organizations that don’t care about design and suddenly want to change. These organizations might lack the right leadership and talent to support design. Without the right leadership, the whole revolution will likely lose power and collapse. Hard things are not impossible, though.

Want to learn more about building useful, design-driven products?

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