Making Users Happy and the World Less Complex: An Interview With Johannes Dornisch, Head of Innovation Lab at intive

According to McKinsey, companies that excel at design grow revenues and shareholder returns at nearly twice the rate of their industry peers. We caught up with Johannes Dornisch, Head of Innovation Lab at intive to talk about what it means to ‘reduce complexity with design’ and how great design can transform not just products and services but whole organizations.

Do you think you still need to convince anyone of the crucial role of design in digital product development?

The answer varies depending on the industry and its digital maturity. Products and services that solve real problems, great customer experience at every touchpoint with the brand and full customer centricity – the above are usually a result of good design work.

It’s true that many people, including important decision-makers in the business, still view design as ‘making things fancy’ instead of making things successful in the market. They tend to think it’s only about beautiful visuals and good taste.

Well, it’s not; design, in the digital products domain, connects business, user and technology. It’s about solving a problem in an optimal, people-centric way. And when design-driven problem solving is under way, you’re on the best path to interesting innovation.

Also, nowadays design is increasingly involved in all the aspects that surround digital development and modern business as such – designers are putting more and more focus on the environmental and social impact with themes such as sustainability, circular economy or accessibility becoming commonplace.

So, if something looks good, that’s just the surface – what interests me as a designer is if it’s great to use and makes life easier.

You like the thought of ‘reducing complexity with design’. Can you explain in simple terms how this is important for any organization?

All organizations deal with unpredictability. You can’t predict the future. Therefore, you need to learn how to handle the unknown AND unknown unknowns. To be able to do that, you need a framework that will help you navigate this complexity.

I like to quote German Professor Peter Kruse, an expert in the field of organizational psychology, who says that the best way to approach complexity is to rely on intuition. Make the right decisions based on knowledge, experience and that feeling you get, when you know something is right. That intuition is deeply rooted in long-standing and constantly updated practices.

Modern-day design helps you establish such useful framework. With a design-driven attitude, people – and organizations accordingly – can empathize with users and customers better, integrate best practices faster, and adapt to new circumstances more quickly.

Design gives people the tools to stay connected, across organizations, and rely on their intuition better. They become more pragmatic. You don’t always follow a plan – there’s room for adjustments, if that’s what takes us further.

intive itself has made a shift from being an end-to-end engineering company to becoming a design-led digital powerhouse. Can you tell us more about the implications of this strategy for the organization and our clients?

We put people at the heart of the process. Our customers’ customers and employees, basically all the people that come in contact with a digital product or service, need to be at the center, and the design-first approach gets you there.

Digital transformation needs to be user centric. If you digitalize a purely physical product, you won’t necessarily end up with a digital one. For successful digital transformation, you need a service-infused logic, and you need to ideate with ease, adaptability and responsiveness in mind. If you go digital with a flawed process, you’re going to wind up with a digital process that is flawed.

Is my digital product good? Is it going to resonate with the user? Is it going to generate revenue? Can I scale it? If you haven’t thought about design at the beginning of the process, you may have to count on luck here. Miracles happen, so short-term gains are possible, but if you’re looking to answer problems with technology, to keep up with your users’ ever-changing demands and the ever-evolving tech landscape, you need to incorporate design in your digital product creation right from the start.

From the organizational perspective, here at intive, ever since we made the shift towards this design-driven mindset, we’ve been working more hand in hand, the understanding between internal stakeholders is better, and we’re not thinking in silos.

intive has scooped 6 prestigious UX awards over the past few years. What’s the secret behind an award-winning design?

The easiest way to win an award is to make your customer and end-user happy. When you develop a product that helps people in some area of their life, it’s very likely you have an award-winning project.

Let’s be clear – the best award out there is our customers’ feedback. When they come back to us with a smile, we get a real kick out of it.

Having said that, of course I’m proud each time our team gets the industry recognition. When you work hand in hand with Adidas on a mobile app that connects the world of football with the famous EA SPORTS FIFA Mobile, and that project wins a Red Dot Design Award, you write history and the whole design team feels it.

What’s our award-winning design team like? It’s pragmatic, proactive and always curious about the user, customer and all aspects related to the process. It’s simply an interdisciplinary product team, composed of people (both designers and engineers) who love what they do.

What is the most important trait of a good designer?

They need to be really interested in people and curious by nature. They need to be good listeners. Empathic listening is not just a term – it really works and leads to a better understanding of the other person or an issue.

And once you understand, you need to be able to communicate. That’s crucial. Good communication means translating every ‘what’ to a ‘therefore’, synthesizing conclusions and discovering the best way to present the findings to your audience. And afterwards – quick prototyping. A good designer needs to have that energy and drive to check their findings fast and validate their ideas.

When you think like a designer, you think of user needs, you dig deep, challenge assumptions and don’t stop asking questions until you know you have something real, tangible and money-making.

Throughout your journey at intive you’ve worked on numerous projects. Can you pick one favorite story that demonstrates design’s ability to drive change, open up new possibilities and turn cool visions into amazing digital products?

I love the example of our collaboration with Vorwerk. We joined forces in 2012 and the goal was to complement Thermomix®, a multifunctional kitchen appliance, with a dedicated iOS app that would digitally connect cooking, planning and shopping.

Really fast, the scope of our work expanded and became a process of continuous discovery. We were involved in designing the Cookidoo® digital recipe ecosystem for Thermomix® users, which helps the company to foster their user community, and the community – enjoy cooking, meal planning and discovering new recipes even more.

On top of that, we helped create a design system for Thermomix. As Thermomix now stands for a whole family of products, a design system ensures seamless experience on each of the devices, with one common language across all of them.

So, you see my point here: our client’s vision for their product changed with time and we were there with them, as designers and engineers, for almost a decade, to consult, ideate and make the Thermomix experience even more enjoyable, engaging and gratifying.

That’s how I see the role of great design – it’s there to satisfy the users, transform the products and open up new exciting opportunities for businesses.

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