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Why design-driven companies will outperform the rest in 2024

Design driven companies are on the rise and user feedback becomes the bedrock of business. Here’s what it means to be design-driven and why it’s important.

Last updated

26 Jan 2024

Reading time

9 min


A great user experience (UX) is often looked at as a ‘nice to have’ feature of a product, but not an essential. Many companies don't realize that effective UX design can also be good for business. 

But an increasing number of organizations are starting to figure this out. By putting user feedback at the forefront of everything they do, they’re ensuring their products provide an excellent user experience. This is a design-driven approach to business. 

The design-driven approach is less ‘build it and they will come’ and more ‘solve it and they will come.’ Rather than putting a product on the market and expecting people to adopt it, design-driven companies are working to create the products or features users actually want. 

What does it mean to be design-driven, and how is this becoming a key strategy for businesses? Let’s take a look.

What is a design-driven company?

A design-driven company is one that makes decisions based on user feedback. 

When many people hear the word ‘design,’ they think about visual things like making pretty pictures, creating eye-catching flyers, or choosing the right fonts.

But being design-driven is not about what your website looks like or how fancy your branding is—it’s about creating and designing experiences based on user needs that also work for your business and its stakeholders. 

The advantages of being a design-driven company 

There are some key advantages to being a design-driven business.

Building something end users need

There are plenty of companies that use numbers and key metrics to drive their decisions. Their metrics are their vision. But because they don’t listen to users, they can’t provide the experience users want or expect. Lack of research, for example, is one of the reasons why only 80% of startups survive after one year in business. 

When you take a design-driven approach, user feedback becomes the bedrock of every product, marketing campaign, and touchpoint you create. You end up building something that users actually want or need rather than something you think they want. 

This leads to better conversions and lower churn rates. Not to mention satisfied customers are more likely to tell other people about your product.

Making better-informed business decisions

Every business has a vision of what its ideal users want. This is fine, but this also needs to be informed by cold hard data.

Understanding what users need from you and discovering what they think about your product can help you make better-informed decisions moving forward.

This ultimately reduces costly trial-and-error activities and ensures you’re hitting the right target the first time. 

Why design-driven brands will outperform other companies 

When I say design-driven brands here, I don’t mean brands that solely use a design-driven approach—that, too, has its limitations.

Sometimes users don’t actually know what they want, or their collective feedback is so scattered that it’s difficult to find common ground.

What happens then is you either end up with ‘analysis paralysis,’ where you’re unable to make a decision, or you end up with a Frankenstein product from stitching together unrelated feedback. 

Brands that complement a design-driven approach with other approaches will see the most success.

Businesses should always make decisions based on several factors. But factoring in user needs from the get-go means you can start with a product you know people will want, then mold your strategy around other important elements, such as tech constraints and overall business objectives. 

Success lies in finding a good balance between many factors. But keeping user feedback and data in mind at all times will ensure you build a product that people will actually buy. This will ultimately put you ahead of the many brands that aren’t doing this. 

How companies can become more design-driven 

Here are a few steps we’ve put together to help you become more design-driven:

1. Cut down as much as you can 

The best thing you can do is cut down on your scope as much as possible so you can put something in front of users quickly. The goal is to find out what users want quickly, so releasing the simplest version possible (or a minimum viable product) will help you get that information ASAP. 

Put together a landing page that outlines the product, send prospects there through ads, and then use Hotjar’s heat mapping and user surveys to get feedback. 

Hotjar has a free plan, and there are plenty of free landing page tools that make this an easy and quick way to get started with a design-driven approach. 

2. Get feedback from multiple sources

It’s important to gather feedback from a variety of sources to make sure you’re reaching a range of different users. 

We all have friends and family we can ask, we can talk to people we believe are our target customers, and there are tons of communities we can reach out to find out what their pain points are. You can also use customer surveys, heat mapping, and user testing to get a variety of viewpoints from different sources. 

3. Don’t worry about creating a full-fledged prototype 

Design-driven companies get their products in front of users ASAP. They don’t spend months or years designing something only to launch it to crickets. Even if you have just a glimmer of an idea, create a minimum viable prototype and get it in front of people immediately—you can even put it in front of people while you’re building it. 

Sometimes you don’t even have to have a prototype. You can simply ask potential users what problems they have, listening to them and seeing how they solve their problems now and learning how our idea fits into their mental model.

Being design-driven extends beyond just the products you are releasing. You can also use this approach to build other aspects of your company. 

One of the coolest things we’ve done at Hotjar was using a totally design-driven approach to our rebrand. Before launching anything, we had conversations with potential users, showed them the branding, and asked them how they felt about it. We then tweaked things according to that feedback until we had an end result that resonated with our users. 

4. Think about the problem you’re trying to solve

Design-driven companies start by considering the problems and pain points they’re trying to solve. We often see businesses coming up with solutions that fit their own biased mindsets—but we need to train ourselves to think about the problem first, and then the solution. 

The hardest part is actually finding the one thing that works—because most of the time there’s not just one thing that can work, but several things. Keep going back to the problem you’re trying to solve to figure out if you’re on the right track. 

5. Create a consistent feedback loop

Create a feedback loop that continues to run every day. Your end user is always using your website, so collect their journey, feedback, and real-time data so you have all the up-to-date information you need right at your fingertips. 

At Hotjar, we’re constantly tracking user data, exploring heatmaps, and asking for feedback. Make sure you don’t have any blocks between you and your user feedback, and get it flowing through as quickly as possible. 

As you gather more and more feedback, you won’t need to go back to the start every time you want to develop a new product or improve upon an existing one, because you’ll already have tons of research to draw from. 

You can start digging into this data to identify more problems and use that information to create solutions—and so the cycle continues. 

6. Consider that a design-driven approach will change as you grow 

As your business grows, consider the number of people involved in each decision. 

For example, a huge company can take up a year to a year-and-a-half to work on three buttons because there are so many stakeholders, users, and teams involved in the process. If a change doesn’t work, it will affect millions of users. Likewise, the more stakeholders you have to appease and the bigger your user base is, the more important it is to be strategic with your decisions because you have more people to take into consideration. 

What are some examples of design-driven companies?

Amongst other examples of design-driven companies, Apple is one of the most commonly acknowledged design-driven companies. 

Intent on placing design at the forefront of the company, Apple went as far as cutting off the Design teams from the rest of the company, giving them liberty to act without the constraints of reporting to other departments. 

Their Industrial Design Studio is restricted to only a few employees, key actors of Apple’s product design process.

Interestingly, Google is now regarded as a design company rather than a tech company. This is the result of their own efforts to reposition themselves as a design-first company, with the conviction that businesses should ‘focus on the user and all else will follow.’

Other companies than those two behemoths stand out as design-driven.

In the travel and experience industry, Airbnb has built its product with simplicity and flexibility as key principles throughout its platform's many updates. Design thinking also allowed Airbnb to understand why their audience didn’t use their product.

Putting themselves in their users’ shoes by traveling to hosts’ locations, the founders realized that users wanted to see better pictures of the entire space and know about the lodging’s surroundings.

Another example is how Calm has made a name for itself in the crowded relaxation and meditation apps market by focusing on emotional empathy and user delight.

Adamant about providing a relaxing space, they’ve streamlined the design so their users don’t feel overwhelmed by a multitude of options.

Start your design-driven journey

Design-driven companies are becoming increasingly easy to spot. They’re the ones engaging with their users, starting conversations, and tweaking the user experience based on the feedback they receive. 

It’s invaluable to have the insights of real-life users—after all, they’re the people who are going to invest in your products time and time again. Talk to them, find out what pain points they need solved, and create products and user experiences that tackle those needs. 

Ready to learn more about your users? Start by sending a user survey.

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