A talk with Thomas Osume, a design strategist at DODO Design Agency.
Welcome to the [Design Strategy Talks] series, where you’ll find different perspectives and insights from my colleagues around the world. The goal? To learn and improve your design process!
Today, we’ll continue on our globetrotting journey of design. We’ve already visited Europe, Australia and North America. This time, we’ve stopped in Lagos, Nigeria, to talk with Thomas Osume, who was kind enough to share his knowledge of design strategy!
Who is Thomas Osume?
As a child, Thomas wanted to become a doctor, a pilot, an engineer and a professional golf player. But as he grew up, he wasn’t sure what he really wanted to do for a living.
He did, however, always have a passion for improving things, and that’s how his relationship with design began. While looking for a job in which he could think of new solutions that could improve people’s lives, he stumbled across the field of design strategy.
Thomas knew that he had to give it a shot, as he has always found enjoyment in creativity and innovation. Even when he goes on a walk, he can’t help himself – he’s always thinking about how he could improve the various things that he sees. That’s why it was love at first sight when he discovered the field of design strategy, and he hasn’t looked back since.
Design strategy as the Yin-Yang of business
Thomas sees design strategy as a great opportunity for businesses to meet customers’ needs in a unique way – one that improves the customer experience and the overall stakeholder value at the same time.
“It’s a balance. It’s the Yin Yang of business for me – balancing customer needs with business needs,” he says.
Thomas thinks that a design strategy should address the needs of both the customer and the business. Ideally, you’d design a solution that’s simple and easy for everyone to use and one that everyone can benefit from.
A successful strategy brings value to both customers and businesses. It’s all about customer empathy and business profit. If you are unable to provide results at both ends, then there’s a fault in the strategy. I know not all organizations are geared towards profit, but the strategy still has to achieve results that they see as valuable.
That’s why you should be very much aware of what is expected by your company or client as you design. It might be tempting, but a design strategist should not get carried away with designing solely for the customer, while completely leaving out the bottom line.
If Thomas had to emphasize just one aspect of design strategy, it would be understanding the overall goal. A deep understanding of this will improve your strategy’s development and help you to use a well-balanced design that satisfies everyone’s needs.
Gain a competitive edge through a deeper understanding
Nowadays, companies must consistently deliver valuable products or services to their customers if they want to remain in business.
Customers want comfort, and only businesses who can provide adequate comfort will get rewarded. In order to achieve that, they need to look deeper than the total number of sales – the business needs to understand why the number of sales was made. Businesses who use design to better understand their customers’ needs in order to serve them better are the ones who succeed and persevere.
Companies need to understand what their customers find valuable and find a way to offer that value to them in a profitable way. Businesses can best achieve that by using the design approach.
Businesses who give design a seat at the table are always going to see results. Building a design team helps you understand the customers who you are building for, but it doesn’t stop there; it also helps you develop the solution in a way that satisfies the goals of stakeholders. Having design as part of the business culture separates the business from its competitors.
Design is able to achieve great results because it approaches things with an open mind. This kind of mindset embraces the fact that you don’t know anything about the challenge, but you want to learn as much as possible. Thinking like this helps you to experience things in a new way and opens up opportunities for you to discover the gaps for yourself.
It’s kind of how kids approach things: they don’t understand the situation at first but they keep trying unconventional things in order to solve the challenge.
Business innovation is all about addressing business challenges in a new way. People find it hard to innovate because they try to address challenges by using the same means over and over again. That’s where a design approach and a dedicated design team can really help a business.
Listen to opinions, be moved by data and insights
Thomas’s ideal design team consists of people from various backgrounds working together to achieve a project goal.
When working on a design project, it’s great to look at it from different perspectives. Having a team where people are as creative as they are analytical can really help them to come up with innovative ways to translate insights into amazing solutions, which in turn bring fantastic results.
In order for such a team to thrive, certain conditions need to be met.
I think a design organization must be flexible, open, democratic and communal. This makes team members feel relaxed and heard. In general, a good design management style is one that involves listening to opinions but is moved by data and insights.
When it comes to distributed design teams, Thomas acknowledges both pros and cons.
A good thing I’ll point out is that distributed teams allow you to have people with different perspectives working on a project, which in my opinion raises the probability of releasing an innovative offering. Another thing is that a distributed team could help to develop regionally and culturally adapted products for different countries.
On the other hand, different time zones make it harder to work together and can increase time-to-market. The overall workflow can be disrupted because of technical reasons or delays. However, if a team is well-structured and organized, there’s no reason why it can’t provide value to the company.
The one piece of advice that Thomas would give to someone starting a career as a design strategist is this:
“Never assume. Always come in with an open mind, seeking to learn new things.”
He believes that observing and connecting the dots is one of the most important skills that a design strategist can learn. You need to find the patterns that aren’t really articulated in clear terms. You shouldn’t make the rookie mistake of thinking about a solution before deeply understanding the challenge that you have set out to solve.
He often hears a bad piece of advice being circulated in his industry: just listen to what the customer says and do it.
It goes beyond that. Sometimes the customers don’t really know what they want but if you can understand their patterns (which might not be very obvious at all) you can serve them better.
Thomas recommends some tools that his agency created which could benefit designers: he singled out the Offering Viability tool and Financial prototype tool, which you can download for free here.
He also recommends the book Originals by Adam Grant, as well as three podcasts:
The 3-bullet recap
Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview and share your knowledge, Thomas!
Alright, it’s time for our usual 3-bullet recap. Here we go:
Don’t design only for customers – keep your business’s goals in mind.
Never assume. Approach the problem with an open mind and strive to truly understand it.
Listen to opinions, but decide based on data and insights.