User experience was top of mind on Dec. 5, when nearly 150 business people, designers and technologists came together at Idean’s UX Summit in San Francisco. Two questions that I wanted to explore at the event: 1. How can UX design help digital business and customer experience success? and 2. Should all employees apply some design discipline to contribute?

The summit coincided with the 100 year anniversary of the start of Ernest Shackleton and his crew's epic attempt to traverse the continent of Antarctica. I couldn’t help but make a connection between the Endurance story and the challenges modern enterprise teams face with digital business and customer experience initiatives, often times ill-equipped and/or having to dramatically pivot en route, just to survive.

Idean’s UX Summit was timely given the state of digital transformation in the enterprise. Below are some recommendations and resources to help you design and refine your digital business in 2015 and beyond.

1. Fully Invest in ‘The Age of the Customer’

Let’s start by agreeing that digital transformation is a journey and not a destination. And according to a Forrester Research report -- your customers, empowered by technology, can leave at any moment. Marketing, technology and channel professionals must collaborate to create company-wide transformations.

Forrester suggests four imperatives:

  • Transform the customer experience with a systematic, measurable approach
  • Accelerate your digital business future for greater agility and customer value
  • Embrace the mobile mind shift to serve customers in their moments of need
  • Turn big data into business insights to continuously improve your efforts

All of this is possible if your team shifts technology management investments toward business technology that wins, serves and retains customers. But success will not come from technology alone.

2. Accept That More UX Design Competency and Courage is Necessary

One crystalizing moment for me during the UX Summit happened when Itai Vonshak, Head of Product and UX at Pebble, said the following about us as employees and consultants working in agency and corporate environments:

You’re not here to build a career as a company person. You’re here to create a great product!”

Many critical and irreversible decisions are often made by people who are not informed enough to do so or are relying on ill-equipped opinions. Don’t perpetuate bad strategy creation and decision-making that inhibits digital business and customer experience success. Speak up or drive needed change, even if unpleasant confrontations are likely.

Job number one in "The Age of the Customer" is to deliver great products, services and customer experiences.

3. Organize a Design Thinking Program to Create Delightful Experiences at Any Scale

Pierre-Henri Clouin, head of strategy at IBM Design, shared how IBM’s 400,000+ workforce is embracing design thinking -- codified by David Kelley and Bill Moggridge of IDEO -- to help customers be more productive and engaged when using IBM software and solutions.

IBM has been driving a broad cultural change program in the last few years to increase design talent and discipline worldwide. The objectives are to enable cross-functional product teams to build and bring better products to market that exceed customers’ expectations. IBM Verse is an example of a recent project whereby design thinking resources were applied to help create a new email tool that aims to adapt to the way people work. Check out the #NewWayToWork conversation on Twitter for related information.

Introducing IBM Design Language

IBM is serious about creating delightful experiences that scale. It recently launched the IBM Design Language, an integrated set of resources and tools that goes beyond traditional visual branding guidelines. This asset provides guidance not only for visual elements (i.e. color, typography, icons, etc.) but also for interaction and UX design, as well as design patterns for the web and mobile.

IBM Design Language is less about compliance with rigid guidelines and more about nurturing inspiration and bringing unity (not uniformity) to IBM's portfolio. Clouin indicated that IBM invested quite a bit in accessibility as part of what it calls “inclusive design.” This will help ensure employees, partners and customers benefit from and contribute to this shared vocabulary for design.

4. Empower Your Creative Workforce with Career Tools to Achieve Digital Business and Customer Experience Goals

Not every organization is as large or has resources like IBM. That’s OK: the ideas and best practices shared here are applicable for any business, from startup to Fortune 100.

Ian Swinson, VP of design at Speakeasy Tech, also presented at the summit. We discussed how his "Abilities Framework" in development is a helpful career path and leadership tool for UX designers and their managers. However, I suggested that if modern enterprises are trying to become more user-centric, Swinson's framework is applicable for all employees regardless of their roles or departments.

Here’s a brief overview of the framework including three primary skill sets and eight abilities, rooted in design thinking:

  • Core skills: key are design and research including product design, visual design, interaction design and the full spectrum of research activities that support all forms of design.
  • Personal skills: competencies that allow designers and researchers to become more well-rounded, including domain knowledge, technical prowess with their tools, communication skills for making their deliverables compelling and leadership qualities.
  • Team skills: more abstract skills that take every team to a higher level, like contributing to organizational culture and innovation by fearlessly exploring and presenting new ideas. If an employee has all the core and personal skills in place, this is where you can challenge them with changes that can wildly elevate the impact of their role -- or the impact of their entire team.

Swinson said that from his experience when applying the framework and hands-on exercises, employee attrition goes down and job satisfaction goes way up. Check out more details about this UX design workforce topic and Swinson's framework.

5. Lead Your Brand’s UX Design Movement to Win Hearts, Minds and Market Share

Risto Lähdesmäki, CEO of Idean, believes we’re living in a unique time. If you’re responsible for or contributing to successful products, services and customer experiences -- your cross-functional teams must focus on user experience competency and design to “win the game.” Of course, the game Lähdesmäki is referring to is all about winning, serving and retaining customers.

Lähdesmäki said his global team has strong multicultural and multidisciplinary experience, and they have developed proprietary design tools to serve clients. Idean has a diverse design portfolio covering a wide variety of platforms and devices from tablets to heavy-lifting industrial machinery.

It’s time to lead with UX design for customer experiences that will enable you to change the world.

Title image by Erick Mott