Driving Design Impact through Intentionality
Role / Director of Design | Responsibilities / Strategy, leadership, coaching
By the end of 2019, the Design team at Blinkist felt firmly established. We had evolved from our early origins of being just one team with various design functions to — as we got much larger — three separate units (Product Design, Visual Communications and Research).
Blinkist as an organisation had changed as well. We had moved from solving the more simple questions inherent within a new consumer product to taking on much larger strategic bets. We were also navigating business challenges that many scaling start-ups contend with — such as new competitors, increased customer acquisition costs and innovating.
In the face of these challenges, the Design team needed to be equipped to deal with increased challenges with clearer focus on what needed to be done.
Working in a fast-paced company, especially during periods of hyper-growth, can call for making quick, pragmatic decisions on an organisational as well as product level. However, over time some of these choices, as well as the outlook and focus of the team, might not scale in the long-term to tackle the challenges of the business today.
I kicked off a strategic process to uncover where design could have greater impact and be ready to drive, support and meet Blinkist's ambitious goals.
This process hinged upon open communication with the key C-Level team (the Blinkist founders — CEO, CPO, CTO) about the role of design in the organisation at that point in time and how design could now contribute to the success of the business.
I started by interviewing the Blinkist co-founders to explicitly understand how they understood the role of design at Blinkist and how they wanted design as a function to contribute to the success of the company. As Director of Design, I also outlined my expectations of design at Blinkist.
In addition to understanding the place of design in the company, the interviews clarified how design could have impact on the business. Revenue growth, driving engagement and increasing organic reach/growth were some of the explicit areas design contributed to.
Understanding how we made impact would give us a way to better prioritise where the team should be spending its time. These interviews, as well as sharing my own thoughts, gave increased transparency across design on how I, along with senior leadership, saw the future of the team.
Through this process, some clear opportunity areas began to emerge, which I laterI summarised into 7 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, Visual Communications — had its own manager reporting into me. I set up workshops with the leads to assess the status quo in relation to these themes. For example, we mapped out where we were falling short on areas like craft and quality and what we had got right. We then outlined the desired state — what we wanted the future of design at Blinkist to be in the next 1–2 years.
The desired states were transformed into vision statements and we highlighted where we saw these opportunity areas making an impact (e.g - revenue, organic growth etc).Through this process we were able to expand on the key themes identified in stakeholder interviews to emerge with clearer design-led vision for where we wanted to go.
Here is the theme of '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"
After some time discussing what we wanted design at Blinkist to be, we looked at what could stand in the way. Another workshop was focussed on understanding potential blockers (e.g - lack of staff, current ways of working etc), so that we could find ways to acknowledge and address these factors. Whilst some themes applied more broadly across all teams in design, there were many themes that only applied to individual teams specifically.
For example, 'Exceptional User Experience' was owned by Product Design. Meanwhile, another theme centred on evidence-based decision making was owned by Research.
I worked with each lead to shape the strategy for their individual teams from here on. Ultimately resulting into a vision, guiding principles and core focus areas/projects for each team.
This initiative focussed on maturing the function of design at Blinkist in the right ways and proactively addressing the needs of the business. As Director of Design, I wanted to raise the bar of the team, whilst doing so in a way that was inherently open and collaborative.
This project led to several follow-up projects, for example Visual Communications identified new ways to become more pragmatic, which was necessary to the company's goal of shipping performance marketing experiments more rapidly. Whilst Product Design proactively identified where there were opportunities for delight along the user experience and worked to embed this in the product.
The initiative helped us make room for ambition and intentionality, even within a fast-moving environment.