May 8, 2023 - 11:32 am

Design Matters

By 20Fathoms

This article was written by Brightly, a 20Fathoms Community Partner.

Two people working on a design thinking project
The five stages of design thinking are empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test.

Every day, we all engage in experiences that are rooted in design.

When you grab coffee from, let’s say, a certain national chain that has become synonymous with coffee, you are generally afforded the same experience regardless of the location. You may immediately recognize the logo, the cup, the smell, and the aesthetically-pleasing wall decor and product displays. That level of thought and intention is designed to ensure the environment in each retail location is brand consistent.

Similarly, if you were to go to, oh, let’s just say a certain technology destination that only sells, troubleshoots, and repairs a particular, fruit-centric suite of products, beyond the location’s look and layout, what you might not notice, is that it isn’t just the tables and shelves that are designed with intention. The staff is rigorously-trained to use specific scripts, language, and interaction techniques, all intended to ensure customers feel heard, understood, and satisfied throughout the interaction.

In either case, these companies have achieved exponential success by intentionally designing meaningful — and replicable — experiences. 

How design impacts your customer experience (CX)

While it may be preferable for business leaders to make design decisions based on production goals or revenue predictions, creating experiences intended to meet customer needs and exceed expectations continues to be a key driver for delivering high levels of CX performance. And, as a bonus, once customers consistently associate your brand with empathy and support, negative experiences can often be viewed as outliers.

Though Zendesk research has found that up to 61% of customers will take their business elsewhere after one bad experience, Forrester found that 54% of customers who report positive emotions, such as feeling happy, valued, and appreciated, are willing to forgive brands that make mistakes. But that doesn’t mean that a smiley face emoji on your homepage is a substitute for delivering a great customer experience.

It’s also worth noting that over a 10-year period, design-led companies outperformed the S&P 500 by 219%. All of these numbers may be overwhelming, but plainly put, this data tells us that it takes more than one of these things to go right in order to set yourself up for long-term success.

Where to start and how to get it right

When you begin to determine where to invest your resources and how to apply these principles to your brand, it’s critical to remember that you’ll need to tailor your strategy to your specific industry. Let’s look at a few research-backed concepts to help you grow your business and retain customers.

Adopt a “design thinking” approach

Empathize. Define. Ideate. Prototype. Test.

Essentially, this is design thinking, and not only is it fundamental to delivering solutions that meet your customers needs and expectations, it can also foster an internal culture of creativity within your teams by inclusively developing innovative solutions to your business’s most challenging problems. 

Make more informed decisions through prototyping and iterative learning

The last two stages of the design thinking process is what leads to true innovation. Feedback from prototype testing is critical not only for refining new experiences, but also creating flexible problem-solving environments which help you avoid costly mistakes and redesigns down the road.

Leverage data, customer feedback, market research, and artificial intelligence (AI)

When possible, relying on things like customer feedback, performance analytics, and AI can help you dismiss — or validate — initial guesswork and assumptions. Give customers the opportunity to chime in, listen to what they have to say, and incorporate those ideas into your customer journey!

Prove the ROI of design to company leaders by benchmarking against design metrics

If you need to validate your work to management, use existing design metrics to measure the success of your initiatives. When you provide empirical evidence of the insights that lead to a well-designed experience alongside data supporting its successful impact, you’re more likely to prove to leaders that time and investment into design-led experiences will provide their desired long-term results.


There are no simple shortcuts in designing memorable, replicable customer experiences, but as McKinsey has found, “the potential for design-driven growth is enormous in both product- and service-based sectors.” As the data continues to pile up, it’s clear that an amalgam of tools and strategies will need to be at work to give your business the best chance at lasting profitability and proven ROI. Global brands that make human-centric design everyone’s responsibility — rather than a siloed function — are faring better than those that aren’t, so be sure to take an inclusive approach by collaborating with team members throughout your organization.