Using design to drive digital transformation

Design, an important enabler of transformation

According to Ofcom, the average Briton spends 24 hours of every week online. At more than twice the 2011 average, this figure has dramatic implications for businesses in every sector, as digital transformation turns every company into a technology company. No matter your business, it’s likely that your customers now engage with your brand significantly, and often entirely, through the screens of their phones and laptops.

Design is more likely to deliver solid business outcomes when leaders buy into its full strategic value

In response, business leaders have been quick to invest in product design, an important enabler of transformation. But not all of them are seeing the same returns. While some designers are having a powerful impact on important business metrics like revenue and valuation, two-thirds see more modest returns, limited to areas like product usability.


A recent study from InVision, the leading digital product design platform, explored why companies are seeing such different returns from their investment in design, and uncovered what they can do to improve outcomes. The findings should help any company hoping to drive digital transformation through design.

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1. Give design its due. Design is more likely to deliver solid business outcomes when leaders buy into its full strategic.
When organisations see design just as pixels on a screen, they also limit its business impact. In the InVision study, the design teams that saw the narrowest impact on their bottom line also had a narrow focus on aesthetics. Of these teams, just 22% reported any impact on company revenue. But amongst the teams with the most sophisticated understanding of design, where design is used to inform business strategy, a remarkable 92% can draw a straight line between their efforts and improvements to their company’s revenue. Another 85% said they’d delivered cost savings through design, while 84% said that design had improved their speed to market.

2. Hire experienced design leaders. The study found that nearly two-thirds of the design teams with the greatest business impact are run by highly-experienced designers at director level or above. The more senior the design leadership, the greater the return on a company’s design investment – and the more likely it is that design will drive genuine digital transformation throughout the business. So what should you hire for? Design leaders who know their craft, inspire their team, and can make a strong case for design at the highest levels of the business.

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3. Take the handcuffs off design. For a company to reap the most benefits of digital design, designers must have a strategic seat at the table.  The data revealed that the design teams with the biggest business impact are nearly three times more likely to be involved in critical decisions than their less-mature peers.  They were also four times more likely to jointly own and develop products and features with key partners, and nearly twice as likely to report directly to the CEO.

4. Run regular experiments, and use the data to inform strategy. The most successful of the designers studied use data to inform every stage of the design process. Those that are using design to drive significant business transformation treat it as a strategic learning and decision-making tool. Sophisticated analytics and measurement techniques are used to track the impact of projects as they progress, and designers use this to information to inform how customers ultimately engage through digital channels. The study also found that the greater a design team’s use of data, the more likely it was to drive efficiency gains and cost-savings across the business. Very few of the least impactful design teams can say the same thing – in fact, just 9% of them regularly measure the impact of their work.

5. Spread design throughout the business. Almost all of the organisations studied had pockets of design success, but only those with the greatest business impact had a coherent design culture spread right across the business.
Here, clear practices, principles and quality standards enable digital design to work at scale, and make it a powerful driver of transformation for the entire organisation. In the top 5% of companies, where design is tackled in a truly integrated way, design systems are also commonly in place to streamline designers’ and developers’ workflows.

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Secrets to success

The companies that are successfully using design to drive digital transformation all share a specific list of behaviours that set them apart from their peers.

As businesses face up to the challenges and opportunities of transformation, it is these habits that separate the organisations that are effectively leveraging design as a business driver from those that are simply going through the motions.

Leah Buley is a director of the design education team at InVision, the digital product design platform used by the likes of Airbnb, Netflix, Spotify and Uber. Prior to joining InVision, Leah was a principal analyst at Forrester, where she studied the role of design in business.

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