The Soda Academy
"Along with strong products, companies discovered designers could create something else; unparalleled competitive advantage."
"Brand experiences must be able to keep up with (and ideally outpace) their constantly evolving customers."
"Transactional vendor relationships aren’t the answer."

Chris Koehler, Adobe

Thomas Andrews and the Well-Designed, Badly Built Boat

Thomas Andrews and the Well-Designed, Badly Built Boat

On April 15, 1912, Thomas Andrews, a talented naval architect stood on the deck of a ship he himself had designed. A 60,000-ton behemoth carrying 2,200 passengers from Southampton to New York.

Like so many designers, he had begrudgingly come to terms with the various compromises that had been made between his original design and the final product.

For example, there were half as many life boats in the final ship as provided for in the plans. His ideas for a double-hull and watertight bulkheads had also not been adopted, nor had many structural details designed to prevent a ship from taking water.

All-in-all though, the ship was a masterpiece; a modern marvel described as “a floating palace”, “unsinkable” as Andrews’ himself remarked, it was “as nearly perfect as human minds could make”.

It must have come as no small irony, therefore, that the designer of the Titanic found himself onboard the great ship – when it sank.

Throughout history, we have marveled at the capacity of designers to reimagine the world around us. To transform the everyday things we see, into the icons, products and brands we love. Frank Lloyd Wright revolutionized architecture. Saul Bass reimagined the corporate logo. Paul Rand showed us a new way to see graphic design.

Along with strong products, companies discovered designers could create something else; unparalleled competitive advantage. Well-designed products could charge a premium over their ordinary, commoditized cousins. And as this advantage spread, designers earned a “seat at the table”. No longer were designers considered second-class citizens in the world of business.

However, as the commoditization of products across industries becomes more prevalent, and customer expectations continue to grow, it is no longer enough to have a great product. Customers expect, and in many cases, demand a great experience and this trend is set to continue.

  • By the year 2020, customer experience is predicted to overtake product and price as the key brand differentiator.
  • 89% of companies expect to compete mostly on the basis of customer experience, versus 36% just four years ago.
  • 50% of consumer product investments is expected to be redirected to customer experience innovations.*

(*Gartner Survey Oct 2014)

So, this raises an important question; Having earned a “seat at the table”, how can designers help the organizations they serve, to design the customer experiences they need, without one day finding themselves standing at the bow of a sinking ship?

Rally senior support. Lobby senior leadership to create digital education programs including executive intervention sessions, customer journeys, and outside – in inspiration sessions.

Be flexible. Brand experiences must be able to keep up with (and ideally outpace) their constantly evolving customers. To accomplish this, build speed and agility into strategic planning, project approval, development, and delivery capabilities.

Turn your data into action. Invest in the people, processes, and technology needed to transform data into customer-centric insights.

Pick strategic partners, not vendors. Transactional vendor relationships aren’t the answer. You need a small set of trusted partners that you can work with — partners that can help co-create strategy, drive innovation, and scale execution.

Engage your customers. Too often transformation is driven by organizations using an inside-out approach. Involve customers directly into your design processes to gain critical insights that will help you solve existing issues and anticipate future needs.

Optimize KPIs. Capturing and reporting a wide variety of metrics can be helpful but also confusing. Deeply examine and understand your metric behaviors, interrelationships, and priorities to create a true scale that can measure overall CX success for your organization

Few passengers survived the design changes made to Thomas Andrews’ ill-fated ocean liner. However, it is worth noting that another of Andrews’ ships, the SS Nomadic – designed and built in 1911 – is still in service to this day.

A reminder that good design (much like the competitive advantage of a well-crafted customer experience) is extremely durable.

About the author:

Chris is the Senior Director of Product Marketing for Creative Cloud Enterprise at Adobe. Responsible for leading the enterprise go-to-market and product marketing teams for Creative Cloud, Chris draws from his 20 years of experience in managing marketing, sales, and customer success teams in both start-up and large enterprise environments to help his customers deliver standout experiences.