As we head into another year of economic uncertainty, panic and fear seem to be gripping many organizations. From mass layoffs in the tech sector to hiring freezes, the world of customer experience (CX) has a right to be concerned. Given the shifts in design awareness and transitions over the last decade from “what it looks like” to “how it works,” however, we predict that designers and the experience design community will be more important than ever.

In uncertain times, organizations must continue to invest in design and designers because:

  • Good design is your competitive advantage. Customers spend less and expect more from brands in uncertain times, so companies must remove inefficiencies in their CX to win and retain customers and design better experiences to win the competition. Research shows that companies that prioritize design get in return increased loyalty, better stock performance, higher revenues, and larger valuations. Methodologies that keep human-centered perspectives top of mind, such as design thinking, have been accelerated and adopted with increasing frequency, because when products aren’t intuitive or fluid, the static and unmet expectations cause real harm that can cause companies major costs. You must prioritize good design to avoid major costs in an uncertain economy.

Good design is especially important for digital experiences built toward self-service, where user experience (UX) plays a critical role. As the market tightens, more organizations are cutting contact centers and marketing and sales staff budgets, necessitating products that enable self-service and function well. But self-served experiences often frustrate customers. Research shows that three in every five customers are frustrated with chatbots. Easy-to-fix UX issues such as low contrast, confusing navigation, and dense content are still the reasons why many sites and apps are not usable. In uncertain times, we need designers who are trained to anticipate the experience from a human-centered point of view to design successful self-served experiences that meet customer needs.

  • Experience design is to your employees’ advantage. While employee experience has been a topic of conversation for some time, we’re noticing new trends in how companies are paying attention to the experiences of tools that employees use to do their jobs. It has been said that good design is invisible, so as our collective digital maturity increases, pain points in these to-date neglected experiences are coming into sharp focus. The loss of morale and emotional suffering of using tools that don’t consider who I am and what I need to accomplish ultimately cost organizations efficiency and attrition. Time is money, so the tools that employees use will make a big difference. If employees are wasting time navigating systems of work, they are not doing their work, costing the company in time wasted. As companies endeavor to do less with more in a tightening economy, they should pay attention to the cost of bad design, as well as time lost when they hire or expect non-design professionals to do design work.

Traditionally, designers have been deployed only for customer-facing products, with the assumption that the workforce would take whatever tool they got because they had no choice or say in the matter. With digital literacy on the rise based on the sheer exposure that everyone has as a consumer, however, workplace tools, with their inefficiencies and lack of ease, have become sources of pain. They are also seen as indications of how much the company cares about its talent. As a result, the employee experience that is most visibly (palpably) experienced in the UX/user interface (UI) of daily tasks will (or should) become a priority for most firms. General Dynamics Information Technology, an IT firm that contracts for the US government, is looking at ways to accelerate, implement, and catalyze the future of work though technology and UX/UI employee experiences. In uncertain times, companies that invest in the employee experience by way of thoughtful, fluid, easy-to-use tools to perform their daily tasks will reduce employee dissatisfaction, help their organizations operate at optimal efficiency, and benefit from increased retention of top talent.

  • Human-centered design is to your technology’s advantage. Emerging technologies such as augmented reality, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, machine learning, automation, and the metaverse are sharply on the rise. Early analysis on recent tech sector job cuts shows that engineers have been the hardest hit. Organizations are coming to realize that coding is not enough to build a working, adoptable product. Poorly designed experiences, no matter how well they are engineered, not only hurt loyalty but even harm customers. Product failures such as Google Glass, automatic soap dispensers that don’t recognize different skin colors, and other inaccessible experiences can all be prevented by embedding human-centered design into the product lifecycle.

Human consideration in technology is so important. Technology doesn’t work in a vacuum; there is always a human involved on one end or the other of the data we are using. But when that human isn’t considered, not even the most interesting technology can be utilized, rendering all the investments that companies make in updating their technology a miss. As emerging technologies become more commonplace, engage designers to imagine useful, applicable, and relevant ways that these new technologies can be embedded into the products they are creating. Don’t make the mistake of only involving designers at the end to address the skin of an incoherently conceived product. In uncertain times, as brands invest in automation, AI, or machine learning, to save time and money, designers will be vital toward synergizing this potential and keeping the inputs and outputs of these applications useful, efficient, and relevant to their intended purpose.

  • The skills that designers possess are to your organization’s advantage. While design has historically been associated with “how things look,” over the last decade, design has also grown to include “how things work.” This evolving maturity regarding the value of design has woken organizations up to prioritize design, even if they still misunderstand the designer’s role. This is understandable: Unlike most disciplines, designers wear a lot of hats — they’re trained to put human needs at the center of their work and collaborate with different roles, connect unrelated dots, find patterns, and identify redundancies.

Research shows that consumers are looking for connectivity and creativity in their products. Platform enablement is surpassing product focus. Organizations are facing challenges through mergers and acquisitions, where inorganic growth results in a hodgepodge of product offerings that are not connected and don’t fit together, each with their own brand identities. Internal and external customers are overwhelmed and confused about how to use these technologies and how to make sense of them. You need designers to connect these unrelated entities and create simplified systems to manage it all.

Furthermore, recessions are ideal times for innovation to thrive. The rule of the downcycle is simple: Move, or be moved. According to frog, “Doubling down on innovation in downcycles can be a strong catalyst for long-term growth.” Designers are built for innovation. Unlike other professionals who use established, repetitive skills to solve problems that have been solved before, designers are constantly adapting their skills and tools to the problems at hand, which are usually ambiguous in nature. As a result, their skills are not centered on any specific tool or software but much more oriented in the soft skills of people management, collaboration, and trade-offs. These skills include being flexible, adaptable, and fluid, acting as generalists, system thinkers, and facilitators as they endeavor to address both “how a thing works” and “what it looks like” at the same time. In uncertain times, designers are some of the most important to retain by virtue of their adaptive skill sets.

We’d love to hear what you think about the role of design during these uncertain times. If you have questions or comments to share, feel free to set up an inquiry.