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Designing the Future of Design

  • Design has come a long way in the past three decades, with the practice evolving from a products and services focus to the latest customer-experience-oriented movement called “Relationship Design.”
  • Relationship Design is Salesforce’s perspective that design tools, practices, and mindsets should be employed to build strong customer, employee, and community relationships in order to serve business and society simultaneously. 
  • Relationship Design complements existing business practices (such as human-centered design, agile, jobs to be done) by adding value-driven accountability and scale. 
  • The Einstein Designer Platform illustrates an example of Relationship Design in practice that infuses artificial intelligence into design tools to help accelerate and scale the design process

Salesforce’s Chief Design Officer, Justin Maguire, always wanted to be a designer growing up. 

“It’s all I ever wanted to do. I thought it was the coolest job in the world,” Justin said.

While growing up, Justin had a front-row seat to the design process. Young Justin looked on with fascination as his father worked with some of the most influential designers of the 20th century, pioneering a new era of product development focused on human experience and usability.  Today, Justin is Salesforce’s Chief Design Officer, where he leads the design community, working to evolve the practice of design to serve stakeholders, not just shareholders. 

Similar to how data now drives decision making at all levels of a business, design now encompasses a broader role in redefining how businesses interact with customers and how brands can drive value. The breadth of design capability at Salesforce spans the entire customer journey – from brand creative and user experience, through to implementation. At every touchpoint, design teams are working to shape and strengthen relationships between people, products, and the planet. Justin and his team call this philosophy “Relationship Design.” 

For Salesforce, the importance of Relationship Design is simple. As a relationship-focused company, Salesforce products and services help organizations empower employees to respond to the ever-changing needs of customers. And building on design-thinking methodologies, Relationship Design provides organizations with a philosophy and practice to orient their culture around trust and connection, engage customers more personally, and prioritize social impact alongside business value.  

Design, in this new paradigm shift, can help leaders at all organizations — not just Salesforce — wield its power to personalize a customer’s experience, unlock new opportunities and keep up with those who make values-based purchasing decisions.

The demand for Relationship Design

Relationship Design builds on the foundations of user experience and service design. It focuses the human-centered approach to making things and experiences, characteristic of those practices, on fostering human connections between people, companies, and communities over time. Brands must now think about how product and service experiences contribute to the ongoing customer relationship. 

In order to illustrate this evolution, imagine you’re going to the airport for a well-deserved vacation in a post-pandemic world. 

Let’s say the airline emails you when it’s time to check in for your flight. You click the link attached to the email, which launches the check-in webpage for your flight. It shows a large button that says, “Check In.” Easy! You press that button and, bam–you have the option to “Download Your Boarding Pass.” In only a few clicks, you’re ready to get on with your trip. 

This is an example of UX Design, focusing on the experience a person has with a product and how easily a person can accomplish a goal or specific task. Going back to your upcoming flight — the great user experience of the check-in process is just one piece of the service. There’s a whole set of digital and physical interactions that contribute to your experience. 

Once at the airport, you head to a kiosk to check your bag. As your plane reaches altitude and the seat-belt sign goes off, a flight attendant brings you the beverage you’d previously requested through the airline’s app. You then click through in-flight entertainment options on the seat back in front of you, and eventually deplane (groggy-eyed) at your destination.

Service design, in this air travel example, builds on UX design by considering all of the interactions a person has with a company as demonstrated with the beverage and in-flight entertainment.

Beyond the task-focused UX and experience-focused service design, Relationship Design elevates this air travel experience to another level — considering the connections a person has with other people in their life, the ongoing relationship they can have with a company, and the relationships people have with their wider community and planet., asking questions like:

  • Not traveling alone? During booking, you can enter the flight confirmation numbers of fellow travelers (whether or not they’re your family), which automatically assigns you seats side by side.
  • Are you gender-nonconforming? Instead of being forced to choose male or female during booking or throughout your journey, you have nonbinary options that match your identity.
  • Looking to connect with others along the way? The airline has designed ways to find connections with your fellow passengers and to engage with those you care for on the ground.
  • Concerned about the environmental impact of air travel? Read through the Economic and Environmental Responsibility report in the seat-back pocket for a transparent glimpse at the airline’s operations and ways to offset your carbon footprint from this trip.
  • Frustrated with an aspect of the service? Join the airline’s customer committee to co-create better experiences for everyone and get rewarded with frequent flyer miles.

Relationship Design, as illustrated by this air travel example, demonstrates an opportunity to craft a highly personalized experience with the power to set a brand apart from competitors. At the same time, this potentially increases responsibility and pressure on designers who need to respond to an evolving list of customer needs and societal concerns. 

Empowering Relationship Design at scale

Sönke Rohde, Vice President, UX Research and Development at Salesforce, understood and empathized with the increasing pressure designers face. As a result, Sönke and his team developed Einstein Designer to help designers and their peers embrace Relationship Design.

“With Einstein Designer, we flipped the classic product design question where designers typically look for a purpose and instead asked what problem customers are trying to solve,” Sönke said.

Today, designers have to compromise and settle on one design. But one size does not fit all. In order to create a rich customer experience and craft the type of customer relationship that will drive value, designers must personalize.

But to personalize experiences for a wide range of customers, designers must create a wide range of UI variations that address the ever-evolving list of personalized needs. Crafting these variations manually is just not scalable – it takes too much time and too many resources. As an alternative, Sönke and his team wanted to look for a way to transform the design process by leveraging AI. 

“By training an AI-model to generate UI variations, we can let designers – the human in the loop – get inspired by hundreds of design variations they can steer and select from,” Sönke said. 

Einstein Designer advances Relationship Design practices by creating the opportunity for personalized design at scale, and illustrates the power of Relationship Design in action. As consumer expectations increase, brands need to find new ways to connect with customers. Personalization allows brands to engage more individually with customers, and designers should be empowered to help them do that. The lens of Relationship Design helped Sönke and his team think about the connections between designers, their customers, and their customer’s customers. The ability to create more UI variations more efficiently lets companies respond to the needs and desires of a diverse customer base, which leads to greater customer satisfaction. 

Whether it’s the relationships between designers and the organizations they work for, or the connections between organizations and their customers, Relationship Design fortifies all of the links – guiding the future evolutions of UX and service design toward more connected and engaging ways of working, buying, and being.  

Coming full circle; what’s next?

Looking ahead, Justin Maguire envisions the role of design growing as our dependence on digital experiences also increases.

“Behind every great customer relationship is a set of experiences. And behind those experiences, is design. It’s the daily process and tools that go into creative thinking and problem solving,” Justin said. 

Behind every great customer relationship is a set of experiences. And behind those experiences, is design. It’s the daily process and tools that go into creative thinking and problem solving.

Justin Maguire, Chief Design Officer

In this sense, Relationship Design represents a way to combine art and science to shape how we interact with the products, services, and people that shape our lives. Whether it’s crafting personalized experiences with automation and AI as used in the Einstein Designer Platform, or using technology to design new solutions for unforeseen challenges, our relationships with the world around us will ultimately define our digital future.

Ever-changing customer demands, combined with ever-increasing dependence on digital tools, will only continue to place more pressure and responsibility on the shoulders of designers. But for designers like Justin and the Salesforce Design team, it’s challenges like these that make design one of the coolest jobs in the world.

Relationship Design is helping customers, too. Learn how OneUnited is closing the racial wealth gap using Relationship Design.


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