How to create a design-led culture at your business

Bronwyn van der Merwe


Rapid technological change and digital disruption have increased the pace of changing customer expectations so much they have become liquid – a rising tide of expectations drawn from your customer’s very best experiences across all industries.

Consumers now expect increased engagement, personalisation, contextual awareness and an experience crafted and considered from end to end. These changes are driving momentum behind design-led innovation.


There is an incredible opportunity for value creation for organisations that can transform their culture, identify and access the right skills to drive innovation and intra-preneurialism.

That opportunity is why more organisations are looking to the creation of a design-led culture and the application of design thinking to help them to stay competitive and be truly customer-centric.

The types of challenges businesses are facing often fall into two categories. Technical challenges may be complex but they are well-defined and follow well-understood processes, like building a website, deploying a new CRM or launching a new retail environment.

Adaptive challenges in contrast are complex by nature, the boundaries are ill defined, the solution unclear. Often these challenges require working across an ecosystem with multiple partners.

Old ways of thinking, acting and operating are no longer sufficient.  Consideration of regulation, new business models, alliances, culture, risk and uncertainty need to be taken into account.

Many of the strategic challenges facing business today are adaptive challenges and these require people from across an organisation to come together, bringing their unique perspectives and expertise to the problem space.


This is central to a design led culture. Design thinking is a collaborative approach to strategy, problem solving and innovation that puts people at the centre.

At Fjord, we use design thinking to design services that genuinely engage. Service design takes an ecosystem view and is founded in research to understand the current state of the service across five dimensions and then to use these insights to reimagine a service such that it is a joy to use.

The dimensions include:

• People: What are the needs, hopes, fears and pain points for people? They may be customers, staff or third party partners and suppliers.

• Products: What products, physical and digital are in place and are they fit for purpose?

• Place: Where are the products or services delivered and what is that experience like? For example, in a retail environment, a call centre, in the field or on a digital channel?

• Process: Where are the inefficiencies, forms and frictions in the process?

• Performance: What is the performance of the whole, from a customer perspective and from the perspective of the business?

The insights uncovered during the discovery of this as-is state provide a platform for ideas and innovation as designers the future vision.

Design-led idea generation is a playful and creative process that takes people out of their day job and places them side by side with people from different parts of the business – or indeed from across the ecosystem – people who they would not normally speak to during their day to day job. This is where the sparks fly and breakthrough thinking occurs.

Design thinking is not just about strategy. Moving from design thinking to design doing is where the craft of design really comes into its own. Ideas are made tangible, prototyped, tested with users, iterated and released to market in a rapid cycle of build, test and learn.

Take for example the challenge of immigration. The Finnish Immigration Service (Migri) needed to make applications quicker and more transparent, whilst allowing employees to complete tasks more efficiently.

In response, Fjord created the eService “Enter Finland” which leveraged a customer-centric, service design-led approach to redesign immigration to focus on the core needs of different internal and external users.

Read the full article on BlueNotes

Bronwyn van der Merwe

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