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6 Keys to Building a Culture of Design (Part 2)

6 Keys to Building a Culture of Design (Part 2)

Ross Crandall  |  December 11, 2018

Welcome to part 2 of a series about design thinking in strategy development. (If you’re just joining, I encourage you to start at the beginning and read part 1 here.)

A Culture of Design: What It Means

Before any organization can begin incorporating design thinking into its strategy, the first step is building a culture where design is accepted.

What does that really mean? As a leader in your organization, you need to lead by example and embrace the framework of design thinking. In my experience, executives may love this concept when it is presented but lack the fortitude to actually follow through or believe in the process. This is the number one mistake you can make, and it will only lead to failure.

Here’s where to start:

6 Ways to Build Your Organization Around Design

#1: Understand Design Leadership

That doesn’t mean picturing yourself as the art director, running around giving thumbs up and down. Being a leader of design means:

  • Being a leader in your organization who promotes and encourages design thinking - an approach that brings people, processes and technical possibilities together.
  • Being a champion who can accept failure, so long as learning takes place.
  • Being a champion to new ideas.
  • Encouraging challenges to the status quo.
  • Having visionary intelligence that seeks to excel beyond a role or title.
  • Embracing opportunities to live as your customer lives.

#2: Reduce Fear of Failure.

Most organizations place far too much emphasis on success, which prevents their break-out people from making bold steps. This is due to a fear-of-failure mentality that cripples organizations and halts innovation before it can take root.

The idea of fostering innovation is easily swallowed, but the practice of innovation comes at a price. Your organization should be in the mode of rewarding failures just as much as it rewards successes.

People who work in fear are far less likely to speak up about potential failure than those who are encouraged to learn from those failures.

    When was the last time you rewarded failure as a leader? Rewarding failure encourages project teams to speak up and stop unsuccessful projects in progress, rather than when the project is complete. And if you follow the design thinking process, you mitigate failures even further before a major initiative has begun.

    #3: Cultivate Respect.

    Building a culture of design relies heavily on the principle of respect, understanding the value of design. and integrating it everywhere within the organization. Executives should continuously speak on the importance it plays in business success. People who lead people (PWLP) must emphasize the importance of design in how they work. And employees should understand how they are a part of the design process. Lastly, engaging with customers should be expected at all levels.

    #4: Focus on Intention.

    Design-based cultures realize that decisions are made intentionally. Even the smallest detail is formed through intentional thought. We are all human, after all. And by using intentional, human-centric design, an organization shows it cares for its customers, which builds loyalty. This doesn’t stop at the customer either.

    Intention is also brought into the workplace. How an office is laid out, placement of break rooms and supplies, communication tools, and even lighting all reflect on the intentions of the organization. And happy employees breed happy customers.

    #5: Believe Design is Universal.

    In a culture of design, employees know that they are all part of the design process. Design is not reserved for the artistic, executives or a special group. Design is owned by everyone. In the design culture, all ideas are valued and more emphasis is placed on quantity of ideas. Ideas spawn other ideas, which in turn, create that innovative solution.

    #6: Embrace Humanity & Empathy.

    I saved the most important for last. The culture of design is based on the fact that businesses are made up of humans. In Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why, he writes that revenue is a byproduct of why business exists.

    Successful businesses do not start with the mentality of driving revenue. They start with solving a human problem.


    They just so happen to be able to solve the problem so well that other humans will pay them for the solution. Any culture of design should be deeply rooted in understanding that every organization is made up of a diverse group of humans, all centered around the same outcome. The culture of design seeks to bring humanity into the business.

    Instead of acting as an external “expert” who preaches to the management team about how to run their own business, design thinking fosters a collaborative approach, in which one team spirit is facilitated across multiple lines of businesses and various levels of the organizational hierarchy.

    Now What: YOUR Culture of Design

    So what is the culture like within your organization? Are failures punished while successes are rewarded? Do your employees feel like they have a voice and are cherished?

    How an organization treats their employees is an indicator to how they treat their customers. If you feel as though your organization could benefit from a change of culture, what could you do today?

    • Test it out within a small group or a team for a while, and observe what happens. Even small changes can make a big difference in morale, profitability and customer retention.
    • Be intentional in how you engage with your employees, and they will be intentional when dealing with your customers.

    Check back soon for Part 3, which will dive more into how to use design thinking to develop your organization’s strategy. And if you have any questions, let us know.

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    Posted in: Design, Design Thinking, Leadership, Strategy

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