For today's forward-thinking companies, user experience (UX) design has become firmly ingrained as a vital component--so much so that design leadership has worked its way up to the CEO position.

A survey of 408 companies by the New Enterprise Associates found that 85 percent of startups have CEOs or C-level executives weigh in on design decisions. Within those companies, the design efforts have led to a measurable impact to business results--leading to more sales, higher customer retention, and faster product cycles.

These days, companies that are design-centric are led by CEOs that prioritize UX. They proactively cultivate design thinking and they know that behind every number is a person. They're constantly looking for ways to make the end-to-end experience across every touchpoint, offline and online, better for their customers.

Part of this trend is likely because we've seen so much success from companies founded by designers. For example, Pinterest, Airbnb, Kickstarter, Tumblr, Twitter were all founded or co-founded by individuals who were formerly designers by trade. Some might even argue that Steve Jobs, while never formerly referred to as a designer, may have been one of the most accomplished designers of our generation.

To dive deeper into the matter, I spoke with 4 successful, design-centric CEOs on why they believe UX and design matters. Here's what they had to say.

David McIntosh, co-founder and CEO of Tenor

According to David McIntosh, UX goes beyond the surface and served as the foundation for building Tenor's GIF sharing platform, which has over 200 million active users each month.

"Great user experience is the foundation of modern digital businesses. Some assume user experience is synonymous with visual design, when in fact every part of the business from backend engineering to business development has to work in concert to deliver a great user experience. At Tenor, the visual skeleton of our product is just the tip of the iceberg -- our highest-expectation customers want to find the perfect GIF that helps them express their exact emotion as fast as possible."

Michael Martin, CEO of RapidSOS

Named startup of the year by Consumer Technology Association, RapidSOS's Michael Martin puts an emphasis on UX to make his users feel secure.

"When we originally set out to solve the 911 mobile location challenge, we developed an app-based solution that required users to abandon their natural behavior of simply dialing 911 in an emergency.

When it comes to someone calling for help, we have to ensure that our designs aren't confusing, misleading, or distracting. We focus our efforts on creating interfaces that are conducive to quick actions, and we give plenty of feedback and confirmations to the user whenever an action is taken. Our main goal with our designs is to build trust and an overall feeling of security."

Brian Barnes, CEO of M1 Finance

With M1 Finance poised to disrupt the wealth management industry, Brian Barnes believes UX is the best way to earn customer trust.

"The entire finance industry has made investing more complicated than it needs to be; it's an industry that's dominated by incumbents and regulations.

Where UX comes in is distilling all of your investing information down to its simplest form; providing only the information you need to make an investment decision. User experience also helps win trust with users, which is especially difficult to do in the finance industry where people are uncomfortable to begin with. We can't make mistakes when we're stewards of people's money."

Pat Vihtelic, CEO of Home Chef

With Pat Vihtelic at the helm of Home Chef, the meal-kit service delivering more than 1.5 million meals per month, UX helps bridge the gap between online and offline interactions with the company.

"In the meal kit delivery space, user experience matters online and offline. Our menu design -- not just how they are displayed on the website, but also the design and ease of execution of recipes themselves -- is critical to customer satisfaction. We think about customer experience at each point along the journey. Our advertising is straightforward, our website is simple and intuitive, and our recipes designed to be cooked by chefs of all levels. Critical design is important at each point on the journey."

Final Thoughts

It's no coincidence that CEOs have adopted designer mindsets (or designer mindsets have enabled some to rise to CEO). For companies to succeed in today's (and tomorrow's) economy, design must be at the heart of everything these companies do.

At its core, design is about people. Company decisions (not just product or marketing decisions) should be made on true customer insight. When design thinking is embedded in company culture, it enables companies to find success by focusing all of their efforts around customer problems.

Published on: Jun 30, 2017