Driving Design Impact through Intentionality

Role / Director of Design | Responsibilities / Strategy, leadership, coaching
By the end of 2019, the Design team at Blinkist had become firmly established. We had transitioned from our early days as a single team with various design functions to three distinct units: Product Design, Visual Communications, and Research.

Blinkist as a company had also evolved; shifting from addressing simpler product problems typical of a new consumer product to tackling much larger, more complex strategic bets. We were navigating common challenges of a scaling start-up, including new competitors, rising customer acquisition costs and the need for innovation.
Photos of work in progress and docs
Working in a fast-paced, hyper-growth company often requires quick, pragmatic decisions at both the organisational and product levels. Some of these decisions are made to address immediate needs, but over time, we might realise that our approach, while effective now, won't scale for the future. When we reach that point, our processes and thinking need to evolve to meet new business challenges.

As Blinkist grew, I saw that Design needed a sharper focus to handle increasing challenges like new competitors, a more complex product, and the need to innovate. To tackle this, I kicked off a strategic process to solidify design's impact and position it to support Blinkist's ambitious goals. This involved open communication with key C-Level executives (the founders — CEO, CPO, CTO) about Design's evolving role and how design (as a team and a practice) could contribute to the company's success.
Understanding expectations
I started by interviewing the Blinkist co-founders to understand their perspectives on design and how they saw it contributing to the company’s success. As Director of Design, I also shared my expectations for design at Blinkist. These discussions clarified how design could impact the business, specifically in areas like revenue growth, engagement, and organic reach.

Learning about potential areas for increased impact helped us prioritise our efforts. The interviews increased transparency within the Design team, allowing members to ask questions, feel more connected to the process and provide feedback. From these conversations, clear opportunity areas emerged, which I later summarised into seven key themes.

Here's an example of one of those themes:
Theme: Exceptional user experience
What: Levelling up the user experience to create a great experience for customers that really differentiates the business
Why: There's more opportunity to create an exceptional user experience, leading to higher retention and customer satisfaction...
Transforming key themes
Each team within Design — Research, Product Design, and Visual Communications — had its own manager reporting to me. I organised workshops with the leads to evaluate our current status across these themes. For instance, for each theme we pinpointed areas where there were gaps, as well as aspects where we excelled. Together, we outlined our aspirations — envisioning the future of design at Blinkist over the next 1–2 years.

Through this process, we expanded on the key themes identified in stakeholder interviews and emerged with a 'desired state' for each theme — a clearer idea of where we wanted to go. These initial 'desired states' were later refined into vision statements, highlighted how these opportunities could impact areas such as revenue and organic growth, ensuring we were tying back the aspirational vision to business value.

Furthermore, by also identifying potential blockers within each theme (e.g - team size, existing ways of working etc), we were able to think proactively about how to address them as part of our game plan.

Here is that theme on 'Exceptional User Experience', transformed into a more aspirational yet actionable statement:
"Our product is 'best-in-class'; it's delightful to use, low in friction and beautiful...From the fundamental core tasks being expertly designed to unexpected touches of care and thoughtfulness. The Blinkist product is differentiated and lacks the pain points of our competitors. We're able to deliver this exceptional experience because designers have the support and confidence to advocate for design-driven topics"
Screenshots of vision statements
Digging deeper
While some themes applied broadly across all teams, others were specific to individual teams. For example, Product Design owned 'Exceptional User Experience,' while a theme centred on evidence-based decision making was owned by Research.

I worked closely with each team lead to help shape their strategies going forward. These strategies encompassed an overall vision, guiding principles and prioritised core focus areas/projects.

This process resulted in a holistic vision for Design overall, one where each team had both unique and complimentary levers to impacting key areas of the business.
Photos from whiteboard from workshops
This initiative focused on advancing and evolving the role of design at Blinkist strategically while meeting the changing needs of the business. As Director of Design, my aim was to raise the team's standards, fostering openness and collaboration.

This effort resulted in several follow-up projects based on the teams' strategies. For example, Visual Communications developed more practical approaches to performance marketing experimentation, crucial for accelerating the company's learning and output to effectively target new users. Meanwhile, Product Design established UX principles and  identified opportunities to delight users at critical touch-points throughout the customer journey. This work encouraged designers to set higher standards for craftsmanship and, by having more concrete understanding of what their work impacted on the business level, it reignited their enthusiasm for advocating for and delivering high-quality, compelling experiences for customers. Overall, this initiative enabled us to pursue ambitious goals with purpose, even in a fast-paced environment.

Bonus: A surprising result of this initiative was that it motivated other teams within Blinkist to kick-off similar initiatives to identify how their teams could evolve to better meet the company's current and upcoming challenges.