Why putting design at the heart of a company can help it thrive

Design based on conversations with your users – it is the surest way to succeed.

By Anita Callan VP of product, Teckro

WITH EXAM SEASON coming to an end, in a typically nostalgic way, I recently found myself reflecting on my own career and the path that led me to one centered around the importance of design.

It also led me to recall activist and educator Sinéad Burke’s TED Talk, which went viral a few years ago, in which she challenged her audience to think of design not as something frivolous and aesthetic, but as the greatest way we can become more inclusive and improve people’s lives.

“I wanted to challenge the idea that design is but a tool to create function and beauty. Design greatly impacts on people’s lives – all lives. Design is a way in which we can feel included in the world,” Burke said on a New York TED stage in 2017.

Regardless of  what we are trying to do, whether that’s to enable people to participate in e-commerce, e-learning and so on, design has a big role to play.

For the love of design

I started my career in development, but have always been drawn to the possibilities of design. While on work experience in IONA Technologies, I was given an opportunity to shadow the design team.

I would stay late each evening applying what I learnt during the day. It was my first exposure to digital design through simple tasks like drawing and manipulating visuals on a computer.

I absolutely loved it – so much so that I went back to college finished out my degree in computer science and started a master’s in multimedia.

Since then, I have worked in companies at different stages of their life cycle, from startups to well-established brands, across a variety of industries including mobile, banking, tech and aviation.

When I reflect on my past experiences, the one common takeaway that I have is how essential design is to each company and industry.

Prioritising design from the top

Teckro, which I joined a year ago, is at an interesting phase where we are moving from startup to scale-up. The company partners with leading pharmaceutical companies and research institutions to simplify the clinical research  process – a recognised bottleneck in the effort to bring new, safe and effective drugs to market.

It’s important to have an organisation that sees design as core to its product. Gary Hughes, our chief executive, comes from a design background and we worked closely together defining a product vision: a simple personalised experience.

This is achieved by designing for users first. We implement basic design methodologies within the ideation and discovery phases to validate problems, before moving to development and delivery.

Constant user research and usability testing are critical to moving forward with an idea. You have to keep talking to the people you are trying to help if you want to help them. 

There is a misconception in design that it’s just pixel pushing. In product design you should never put a design together because it looks nice; there should always be a problem you are solving, whether it is large or small.

Scaling Design

In January, Teckro received series C funding to facilitate growth. My biggest learning so far in a hyper-growth environment is how easily you can be pulled in many directions when you have design skills. This means it can be a challenge to focus your skills where they add the most value.

No one can be a subject matter expert in every area.  Yet, a lot of organisations tend to have individuals multitasking. For example, the product designer may also be the user experience (UX) researcher and content writer.  

My goal in Teckro is to build a product team where everyone has a specialist role within the product life cycle. Then everyone understands the expectation of their roles and they will work as a team to build the most optimal products to address our customers’ needs.

The key is to always focus on the user. If you truly understand and have empathy for your user, you can design a product that they will use. If you get it right, you can give them a product they will love.

Anita Callan is a vice president of product at Teckro

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