LED sign saying "The Journey Is On"
PHOTO: Clemens van Lay

Without a doubt, design plays an important role in customer experience. More and more companies are starting to recognize the impact of design beyond decoration and towards the bottom line. In fact, McKinsey found that companies scoring high on their design capabilities exhibit 32% higher revenue growth and 56% higher total returns to shareholders over a period of five years. 

In this same study the consulting firm found a few design activities in particular contributed to higher performance. These were: taking an analytical approach, communicating with other departments, iterating continuously and focusing on user experience. While these factors can predict overall business success, they don’t address one important aspect of design: the dynamic role of design throughout the customer journey. 

At different stages in the customer journey, design has different roles to play. It’s only by adapting your approach to design to different stages that you can best deploy these design tactics and enrich the customer experience. 

Designing for Awareness

At the first stage in the customer journey, companies shouldn’t be concerned with making a sale — at least not yet. The awareness stage is intended for education and entertainment, building a relationship between customer and company. In generating awareness, design has a very important role to play: catching prospects’ attention. 

Creatively leveraging your visual brand identity to create a memorable first impression that can be carried consistently down the funnel is paramount. Design needs to be at its most eye-catching at this stage. To consider just one design element, color improves brand recognition by 80%. Additionally, between 62% and 90% of first judgments about products and companies are made based on color alone. An attention-grabbing design at the awareness stage can mean the difference between beginning a relationship with your prospect and being ignored entirely. 

Related Article: Use Design Thinking to Put Yourself in Your Customers' Shoes

Designing for Consideration

Consideration is about building a deeper relationship with potential customers, by delivering a more personalized experience. Prospects are also beginning to evaluate whether they’re actually going to purchase from you at this stage, so you need to be more persuasive and in-depth in your interactions. 

The issue with these longer-form interactions is that most people lack the attention span for them. According to Facebook, most people only spend 1.7 seconds with mobile content and 2.5 seconds with desktop content. Given this shrinking attention span and increasing mobile usage, design’s role during consideration is to hold the prospect’s attention on more in-depth content. 

Holding attention requires making information as interesting and easily consumable as possible — whether that means visualizing relevant data for a webinar, selecting emotionally resonant imagery for ebooks, or developing a unique editing style for videos. When done correctly, consideration design enhances content, without standing in the way of the information being conveyed. 

Related Article: Balancing User Experience and Creativity in Design

Designing for Conversion

Conversion has a singular goal: to sell. At this stage, your company’s product or service is at the forefront. Content takes on a more sales-focused format, showcasing your competitive differentiators and creating a sense of urgency. For this sales-focused stage, design is all about optimization.

Optimization requires design to take on two roles: facilitator and scientist. To facilitate, design needs to focus on becoming almost invisible — making the path to purchase as streamlined as possible. To act as scientist, design needs to continuously test and iterate the design of the conversion stage to see what produces the highest conversion. Balancing the invisible and experimental aspects of design is imperative at the conversion stage — requiring both UX considerations and creativity to pull off. 

Related Article: Why They Click: The Psychology of Your Audience

Designing for Loyalty

Even after all of the efforts to drive people down the funnel from awareness to conversion, your work is not done yet. As good as purchases are for your business, it’s repeat purchases that keep the lights on. Customers are more likely to purchase new products from familiar brands, so the more loyalty you can build, the more ongoing revenue you can secure. To keep customers coming back for more, you need to delight and empower them at the loyalty stage. 

Educational content that helps customers get the most out of your product or service will keep your company top-of-mind. However, to avoid becoming a commodity, you need to deliver more than just utility — you need to create a connection. 

Here, your brand’s personality needs to shine through in your design. This can mean a fun aesthetic for webinars, newsletters that showcase fun illustrations, or incorporating design easter eggs in your feedback surveys. Delighting with design expands the way customers think about you, to move from commodified to connected. 

Related Article: Positive Memories: The Shortcut to Customer Loyalty

Designing for Advocacy

While loyalty will keep the customers you have and get them to repurchase, to grow your customer base you need to turn customers into advocates. At this stage, your marketing efforts are focused on maintaining delight, creating deeper connections, collecting feedback, and giving customers a platform. On the design side, this means letting customers contribute to the distribution and evolution of your visual brand. 

Designing shareable materials maintains your brand integrity and gives customers an easy way to advocate. But designing for advocacy doesn’t always mean designing content. Sometimes it means facilitating user-generated content (UGC). Here, your design team can take on a more editorial role, selecting customer-created posts to share that complement your visual identity and fit with your feed. By sharing customers’ posts, you can leverage the authenticity of UGC, make your customers feel connected to your company, and reach a larger audience.  

Related Article: How to Mitigate the Risks of User-Generated Content

The Full Design Experience

Design means many things at a company and many things for customers. As the business value of design becomes more and more evident, understanding the different roles of design in the customer experience will give some companies an advantage over others. While the full customer experience map will vary from business to business, knowing the basic role of design at every major stage in the customer journey will help you adapt your approach to design to benefit both customers and your bottom line.