design thinking
POSTED : October 30, 2015

Design thinking can be a critical driver for business transformation and growth, but it often involves a huge cultural shift—and new ways of working. This was a common theme at the 2015 Delight Conference, our annual gathering of design, technology and business leaders dedicated to creating digital experiences that people love.

Getting design thinking into your organizational DNA

You probably know Intuit as the technology company behind personal finance software such as TurboTax and Quicken. But 10 years ago Intuit also had a reputation as “the best-run no-growth company” in Silicon Valley.

“Our culture had turned into a culture of rigor and risk aversion and back-of-the-box software feature lists,” Intuit’s Suzanne Pellican said in her opening keynote. “To go beyond ease and do something unexpected (in a good way) to delight our customers, a culture shift had to happen.”

As the Director of Intuit’s “Design for Delight” program, Suzanne’s mission was to get design thinking into the organizational DNA—to change the way people work across functions to create awesome and delightful products.

“You have to start from something that stitches the entire organization together,” she said. “It’s not something that one or a few people can do alone. You have to change the way that 8,000 people think and act so that you can go beyond your customers’ expectations.”

You have to fall in love with the problem, before falling in love with the solution.


It took eight years, but “Design for Delight” now permeates Intuit’s culture. And the principles that Suzanne sketched out on a whiteboard several years ago still guide the process at Intuit today.

  1. Deep customer empathy: Know your customers better than they know themselves.
  2. Go broad to go narrow: To come up with one great idea, you have to come up with lots of ideas. And then choose the ideas that are most delightful, not the ones that are cheapest, easiest or safest.
  3. Rapid experimentation with customers: Watch what they do more than listen to what they say.

From nothing to something in 60 days

Another Delight speaker, Zappos Labs design lead Golden Krishna, echoed that approach as he walked through his recent project for the Bay to Breakers race in San Francisco. As title sponsor for the event, Zappos wanted to “innovate the experience.”

Using the RFID technology that other races were using to track times, the team designed a “Magic Checkout” experience for the expo center that automatically scanned items in fractions of a second, reducing checkout times to less than a minute.

Like Suzanne Pellican’s experience at Intuit, Golden’s team had to work to bring other stakeholders along, no small feat when his pitch included the caveat that they had only a 50% chance of success. By speeding development with rapid prototyping—and a lot of last-minute elbow grease—they blew their success metrics out of the water, cutting wait times to less than two minutes and the checkout experience to less than one minute.

Designing for digital complexity

But the speed and technical proficiency of the process doesn’t tell the whole story. How do you create an experience that people love to the point of addiction? Erin Moore, a designer at Twitter, said the challenge is creating a connection between technical things and meaningful experiences.

No one says, I love Twitter because it is so difficult to understand. People love what we make because it connects them with their environment and the people in it in new ways.


Erin said her experience coaching college rowing inspires her work as a designer, helping her to bridge the gap between how an experience works and how it feels. “You have to understand all the moving parts of your experience and how you can configure it to amplify the strengths of your users.”

In rowing, this is called “swing.” It’s when the work of taking a stroke has become so effortless that it actually transforms a technically complex experience into something delightful. When connection feels good, the work is easy.

Design is the act, not the artifact

Pulling some of the common threads of the day together, Colin O’Neill, VP of Experience Design at PK, said digital has changed the way we engage with brands. And if we want to be change agents for our clients and brands, we need to embrace that change more deeply ourselves. It’s not just about making websites or apps, but about putting your brand in the hands of your customers.

To do that, you have to make connections across many different aspect of designing a digital experience. “What’s important is how you connect all these things—how they inform, influence and inspire each other and how you design the dance between them,” Colin said. “If you’ve ever wondered why designing a website is exhausting, it’s because this is the work. This is what it feels like.”

When done well, design lets us focus on being human

Sometimes, design thinking comes down to making smart choices. Amber Case, author of the soon-to-be-released book Designing Calm Technology, said just because you can develop a fridge that alerts you when you’re out of eggs or your bananas have gone bad, doesn’t mean you should.

“A banana has a skin on it that tells you when it’s bad. You can look in your fridge before you go to the store and ask, ‘Do I need eggs? No.’ Did I need to ask the web or set up an API or have an argument with my boss whether that feature should exist or not? I don’t want to have to be a systems administrator to live in my own home.”

Josh Clark echoed that sentiment in his talk, Magical UX and the Internet of Things. As machines begin to understand the environment around us, then we can combine things in ways that are truly magical. But the goal should be to remove as much technology from the experience as possible so that people can get closer to the content and the action they want.

“The design community has co-opted the words of magic and, dare I say it delight, without delivering the wonder that those words imply,” Josh said. “It’s tricky to deliver magical, delightful experiences that exceed expectations, because our expectations catch up. What’s magical today is just the norm tomorrow.”

And that’s what Delight is all about: gathering to connect and celebrate the work that’s required to create experiences people love. Because companies that are loved, win.

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