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Digital Marketing by Design

By Jake Sorofman | December 03, 2015 | 2 Comments

Who says elephants can’t dance?

A couple Sunday’s ago, the New York Times profiled Phil Gilbert, the man behind IBM’s incipient reinvention from enterprise stalwart to design-centered innovator.

As the story goes, Big Blue is betting big on design thinking—a bet that’s intended to win over a growing class of increasingly discriminating, design-savvy decision makers native to the Apple generation.

Today, design is our DNA. We’ve become visually attuned, aesthetically aware and design demanding. Apple, Amazon, Uber and others have demonstrated a universe of possibility that’s fast becoming our default expectation.

And who I’m describing isn’t a bunch of design divas, bearded hipsters in skinny jeans, sipping lattes and surveying knowingly over their Warby Parkers. It’s not just these digital aesthetes. It’s you and me. And, for the record, I still wear khakis.

We’ve all been conditioned to expect nothing short of thoughtful, inspired, even artful product and user experience design. Today, anything less feels conspicuously out of touch or perhaps just a bit lazy.

It hasn’t always been this way. If you’re of a certain age, you probably recall the dreaded green screen, those impossibly arcane user interfaces gracing so many legacy software applications of yore, particularly the ones of the enterprise variety. The onus was on you, the user, to somehow make sense of the impenetrable nonsense that often called to mind the proprietary applications used by airline gate agents.

Back in the sock-puppet days of Bubble 1.0, my wife worked as a user experience designer with one of the ultra-hip digital agencies of the day. It was around this time that poor user experience design was mercifully giving way to a more modern form of design thinking that actively valued, even respected the end user.

At the time, my wife had as hard a time describing what she did for a living as I do today. User experience design was a quirky job involving wireframes and user testing and other things that were too often viewed as the discretionary line items that you quickly excised at the first hint of budgetary duress.

But today, user experience design is as important as programming and user experience designers are practically as coveted as that majestic unicorn known as the data scientist.

Of course, there’s nothing particularly new about this idea of design thinking. For years, we’ve trumpeted the virtues of agile and user-centered design methodologies that ask us to put aside preconceived requirements and design plans in favor of a deeper investigation into customer’s actual needs.

As a discipline, design thinking tells you to focus on divergence over convergence and to suspend the assumptions and constraints that bind and bound creative potential to our own proprietary world, often at the expense of the world our customers occupy.

Design thinking is about putting the customer first—for real.

Digital marketers should take design thinking seriously, not as the province of design divas, but as the foundation for developing products, experiences—even strategies—that inspire and delight customers.

Comments are closed


  • Ken Polotan says:

    This post is spot on. Digital Transformation re-engaged the customer and at its heart, focuses on the experience. In these days, businesses need to think beyond products and services and instead zero in on the customer experience (CX) as a means to build brand awareness and equity.

    Thanks for posting.

  • Great article! Gone are the days where user experience can be argued away in any situation. While design thinking is improving many projects, especially in mobile, social, and call center experiences. Cross-channel improvements in user experience are still lagging years behind customer expectations.