Observations from a chief design executive that apply across industries and companies.
Having the opportunity to build design orgs in some of the largest companies in the world, I’ve observed that even with completely different cultures, org structures, and industries…some things stay the same.
You will never have enough designers. You will never have enough time. You will always be building the plane while it’s flying. Design is a valuable, scarce resource. The sooner you navigate this truth and use it to your advantage, the sooner you build leverage.
Design transformation is company transformation. The work you’re doing isn’t just for the design org. Becoming an experience-led company transforms the culture. Realize that change management is your job.
Chart tomorrow’s vision while building for today. North stars are in the ether if you’re not improving current experiences. Drive impact in the short-, medium-, and long-term. Short-term wins become proof points that build reputation and provide runway. The medium-term is where the magic happens.
Show up as a company leader, not just a functional leader. Design cuts across orgs and teams, which provides a unique view of the environment. When you make that mindset switch, you’ll get pulled into the conversations and decision making you wanted all along.
Always be recruiting. The coffee chat you have today might be a future hire five years from now. You are responsible for treating your talent pipeline like a supply chain, always keep it moving.
Your “first team” is your boss and peers, not your directs. If you only focus down, you’ll realize you’ve been neglecting across and up. That’s where important communication, relationships, and visibility is required for the success of your organization.
Be the matchmaker. Connecting the dots across the company will unearth teams that don’t talk to each other, duplicative efforts, and opportunity areas. Build the network, streamline the work, and unearth new business models.
Trust is the foundation of all great teams. Take the time to build trust with your team, throughout your org, with your peers, and your manager. Take a 360 degree approach, and be the constant gardener.
No one understands what you do, so explain it to them. Don’t leave the design process in an opaque box that produces magic. The more people understand the complexity and rigor behind the work, the more others will respect and champion Design.
As you scale, the talent you hire and the mechanisms/levers you create will determine how your culture evolves. Make sure you’re minding the shop and sharing artifacts that guide decision making and incentivize desired behaviors.
Connecting competitive advantage and value to customer and business impact.
As a Chief Design Officer (SVP/VP Design, Head of Design, etc.), you’re responsible for connecting the value and competitive advantage that design creates to customer and business impact. Here are eight ways to drive business outcomes no matter what scale you’re operating.
Decode corporate strategy and connect the threads. Translate the corporate mission, vision, and strategic intent into the differentiating design capabilities that will provide competitive advantage. Develop a clear thread that ties the strategies together — from corporate strategy all the way down through to experience strategy. Illuminate the alignment and connection. Translate corporate objectives into design objectives.
Define an inspiring design vision and clear execution path. Create the design vision, and the three-year strategic plan, principles, roadmap, and operating plan to get there. Define goals that lead to the clear outcomes and milestones defined in the strategic plan. Develop an inspiring vision of the future. Make strategy tangible through narrative and prototypes. Socialize, get feedback, and communicate far and wide.
Drive a dual operating system. Deliver for today while making strategic investments in the future. Orient towards experience maps and roadmaps that paint a clear North Star and define the progress signposts on the way there. Make sure you’re executing short-term responsibilities while also shaping the future. Align your best talent to the most critical work for the company, while making space for exploration to go after what’s next.
Identify beacon programs. Use beacons as the light that guides the organization to new ways of working. These become your case studies and examples of how being experience-led yields better outcomes. Leverage these programs as catalysts to embed human-centered design into the fabric of the organization.
Make teaming a priority and build organizational leadership muscle. The larger and more matrixed the company, the more important this will become. This is a requirement if you want to reinvent any experience at scale. Teaming across the organization will pull together diverse, cross-functional perspectives, forge strong working relationships, increase collaboration, and accelerate the work needed to achieve the business outcomes you’ve defined.
Create quality and coherence mechanisms. Leverage orchestration and governance to create experience cohesion. There’s an interesting dichotomy that happens as you elevate as a leader and your organization scales. You can no longer be close to every program, and yet, you need to be able to hold the quality bar and ensure cohesion.
Show don’t tell. Measure what matters, and align to shared outcomes and metrics wherever possible. Define leading and lagging metrics for all of your priorities/objectives. Benchmark current state and get moving.
Connect design outcomes to customer and business impact. As a [design] leader, there’s a critical difference between stating and demonstrating business impact. How you measure progress and the effectiveness of your plan is where the rubber meets the road. Develop a scorecard, impact reports, narrative artifacts, and ongoing communication. Continuously communicate progress across and up.
Customer experience has become a significant competitive advantage in the travel industry, magnified by shifts in what travelers value. We’re on the cusp of an evolution in how emerging technology will enhance the travel experience from start to finish, moving from reactive to anticipatory and proactive customer experiences.
With more ways to spend their time and money than ever before, people expect more from their customer experiences. Today’s experiences are benchmarked against the best across all industries, which means companies compete with experiences completely outside their category for mindshare and wallet. So, when a company disrupts an industry or makes their service incredibly easy or more delightful, consumers wonder why everything can’t be that simple. Turns out, travel and technology are good companions.
In the past, when a flight was canceled, it was enough for a travel company to supply travelers with the connection points and contact information to fix the issues themselves. We’re no longer in that era. Now, travelers will compare the self-service experience of dealing with a flight cancellation with the ease and simplicity of their favorite app — regardless of industry. The end-to-end service travelers receive is considered part of the product experience itself.
The shift of customer focus from products to services to experiences has been happening for years, and the pandemic has only amplified the need for meaningful connection. Travelers are placing greater value on the trips they’re taking and the memories they are making. A recent report from Expedia Group found that 50% of travelers plan to spend more on trips than they did prior to the pandemic.
Higher consumer expectations, coupled with an increased emphasis on the role of travel in our lives, has raised the bar considerably for travel providers who want to deliver great experiences.
To become a traveler-centric company, we must put our deep understanding of traveler needs, preferences, and behaviors at the core of our work. Human-Centered Design allows our cross-functional teams to activate our expertise and innovate in real time: connecting travelers with inspiring ideas to explore their world, streamlining the planning process, and keeping relevant information at their fingertips throughout their trip.
While historically, travel providers have viewed the transaction as the end of a traveler’s experience, Human-Centered Design enables an experience-led product and service design process that maps the traveler’s journey end-to-end and informs every touchpoint they have along the way.
A shift to holistic thinking and personalized experiences
The travel industry has a history of optimizing experiences for search and transactions. Instead of focusing on the transaction, travel providers need to focus on the relationship travelers have with their brand and use that to build more intuitive, personalized, and proactive experiences. Taking a more holistic view of the experience frees us from thinking in transactional silos and highlights how all the pieces interconnect. From discovery and planning, to booking, in-trip, and post-trip — it helps connect the journey across all channels and time.
Travelers don’t see parts of the experience or features in isolation, to them it’s all one experience — and that’s exactly how companies need to see it too.
Making technology human
Technology is an enabler of great experiences. Leveraging artificial intelligence, natural language processing, and predictive analytics, companies can create hyper-personalized interactions that adapt to a traveler’s context and work across every aspect of their journey. At their core, experiences need to be humanized, starting with a cohesive design and conversational tone, removing jargon, reducing complexity, and streamlining interactions.
Once that foundation is ready, companies can deliver real-time, personalized experiences that meet travelers where they are and provide the right information, at the right time, in the right context. Personalization unlocks a new level of experience quality. It moves us from a ‘one-to-many’ to a ‘one-to-one’ conversation with customers. Reflecting people’s needs and preferences while providing value at every interaction also builds trust. Companies can use data to anticipate issues and solve them using customer preferences and light touch interactions.
Natural language processing allows for multimodal interaction, so travelers can interact in the most natural way for them — whether that’s through typing, tapping, or voice. Voice interaction will become increasingly prevalent over time, enabling a new generation of experiences that deliver actionable insights and real-time personalized interfaces.
What’s next – hyper-personalization and prediction
What’s considered bleeding-edge now will become table stakes in the future as customers’ expectations evolve. Where we’re heading is hyper-personalized interactions that adapt to context, work across the entire journey, and solve problems before travelers even know they have them — the future is predictive and proactive.
This shifts us from a place where flight cancellations cause additional time and stress, to a world where issues are solved before travelers even know there’s a problem. A world where flights are rebooked and itineraries updated before travelers even know their flight was canceled, with orchestration happening behind the scenes, reducing the complexity and stress when things change. Systems that get better the more you interact with them, increasing value to travelers by anticipating their needs.
This is where the power of journey orchestration and proactive experiences really come into view. Travel providers that take advantage of this trend can create better customer experiences, achieve higher conversion rates, and increase the value of each trip. They also can build long-term relationships with travelers instead of just transactions.
I prefer an experience-led product development process. I could probably write a book on this one. For now, I’ll provide the core of my POV.
An experience-led process yields better outcomes. It de-risks going to market by ensuring you’re solving an actual customer problem and people desire what you’re bringing to market. It’s a measure twice, cut once approach where you avoid building things that no one wants.
Experience-led means the technology is in service of the experience, not the other way around. MVPs aren’t determined by what engineers can build in three months. If you’re only delivering the minimal, you probably aren’t delighting anyone.
Experience-led product development requires a cross-functional team and leverages human-centered design. It produces concrete artifacts that set the north star vision, materials to socialize, and aligns people through a shared understanding. It makes the future tangible.
A key artifact is the experience roadmap, outlining the path to the north star. It’s broken into experience releases that show the services and features required to power that experience. This keeps the team focused on customer value and impact, not just shipping something.
Experience-led means you widen the aperture at the beginning of the process to be inclusive. Not at the end.
Experience-led means you’re not working on features or pages, you’re thinking holistically about end-to-end experiences. Customer journeys are a thing.
Experience-led means the prototype determines the requirements. The actual experience you want to deliver is then deconstructed to figure out what to build first. The whole, then the parts.
If you’re interested in more on this topic, let me know.
I’m excited to join an awesome lineup at the HOW Design Creative Leadership Summit — focusing on emerging challenges faced by leaders in design, product, and engineering. Increase your impact by becoming an in-house intrapreneur and staying creative, productive, and sane as a leader in our new remote world.
I had the pleasure of being featured on the Life at Expedia Group blog as part of the New Arrivals series. In this interview, I talk about my journey into Experience Design, what excites me about Expedia, evolving us into an experience-led company, and the impact I plan to make this year.
Last week I started a new journey as Head of Design for Expedia Group.
I’m energized and humbled by the opportunity to demonstrate the power of an experience-led company and to reinvent the travel industry. Those that know me well, know how strong of a match this is. In this role, my passion for building strong Design culture, shaping agile organizations, and driving product and service innovation through human-centered design will merge with my life-long connection to travel.
It’s an honor to become part of this amazing company and lead such a talented Design organization. Huge thank you to everyone at Expedia for the exceptionally warm welcome.
I’m excited to help define what’s next for Expedia, the travel industry, and beyond.
Sharing this quote from Bruce Mau, co-founder of The Massive Change Network. When you're leading transformation, it's all too easy to not acknowledge what is already working.
“How do you help people embrace change?
Here’s a good rule of thumb: for every one change initiative, create two celebrations of what’s already working. Emphasis on what’s working may seem redundant, but it often reflects a neglected reality — and the effect is to create a “field of safety” that makes change easier to accept.
Before people can embrace innovation, they need to feel safe. Therefore, the best way to foster change is to reinforce stability. In our rush to initiate change, we often ignore what’s already working. We take it for granted. If you want to fix what’s wrong, first celebrate what’s right and expand it where you can. Before building new structures, recognize the ones that are fine as they are. Applaud success and accomplishments. And make this celebration visible: be sure that people see it.”
With summer in high gear, the myriad of post-pandemic reports are touting rapid change and prep for a new normal. Companies have been talking about the transformation they’ve undergone during the pandemic, including Satya Nadella stating in an earnings call, “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.”
Companies have moved quickly during this time, leveling up to meet the new digital demands of customers, addressing technology debt, outdated infrastructure, and software tooling — all with the goal to come out the other side leaner and more agile in this new environment.