Executive Education

Design Is Essential: leading through a crisis

This has been a year in which we have had an unprecedented impact on the lives of every person on the planet. People’s lives, health, family, daily routines – and ultimately how we do business has been tremendously affected by the global pandemic. We’ve all had to adapt and endure constant and unforeseen changes.

From the inconvenient, to the life-changing shifts, we’ve all been touched by COVID-19 in ways that could not have been foreseen just 3-months earlier. When we experience great change, it is in our nature to try and bring old aspects of our life into what is considered the ‘new normal.’ As society and the world of business adapts to this new way of life, many things have changed, but some things remain the same. Fulfilling human values through design is more important now more than ever.


Let’s start with the basic human needs; air, water, food, clothes and shelter. These intrinsic needs have been challenged during the pandemic as we have all coped with fulfilling these most fundamental needs. In these troubled times, the importance of these needs has been amplified. The most basic need of human connection has been placed front and center, especially during government imposed stay-at-home orders. With the quarantine in effect, many of us have looked to the internet to fill these basic human needs and to also run our businesses and connect in social ways.

As a result of the pandemic and having to stay home, we have all naturally ended up spending more time on the on-line. The pandemic outbreak has driven many commercial and social activities online, and for most of us the internet has become an ever more crucial link to those we love and the things we need to get through the day. A new Pew Research Center survey conducted in early April finds that roughly half of U.S. adults (53%) say the internet has been essential for them personally during the pandemic.

Americans were also asked how important the internet has been for them during the coronavirus pandemic. 87% of adults say the internet has been important for them personally during the coronavirus outbreak. A well-designed digital experience is not a “nice to have” but a “must have” to generate relevant user value and win with your customers.


As online commerce has played an even more critical role, the value of design is also an essential part of our lives.

  • U.S. retailers’ online year-over-year (YoY) revenue growth is up 68% as of mid-April, surpassing an earlier peak of 49% in early January.
  • There’s been a 129% year-over-year growth in U.S. & Canadian e-commerce orders as of April 21 and an impressive 146% growth in all online retail orders.
  • Online conversion rates increased 8.8% in February, reflecting a level of shopping urgency typically seen during Cyber Mondays, according to QuantumMetric.

COVID-19 will forever change online usage, and in most cases has accelerated our need for great user experiences. The impact on e-Commerce is creating challenges to online selling & service like no one has imagined before. This is where design becomes essential in creating value for business and to connect with consumers in a meaningful, memorable way. In a flooded market of diverse products and services, design showcases your organization’s mission and helps you stand out. It is not just about the price, in a recent survey 78% of consumers overwhelming said they would choose a relevant, engaging user experience over the price of products or services. This affirms that every second counts when we connect with users, and design-led experiences are top of mind.

Mobile devices are the most popular device for online commerce by a wide margin. 72% of consumers are using mobile devices to shop in stores according to the latest PYMNTS’ 2020 Remote Payments Study. E-Commerce and online retailers’ supply chains, order management, and fulfillment systems are all being tested by the triple-digit order and revenue growth going on today. And best of all, more energy and intensity are being put into improving customer experiences online. The businesses that focus on design and a focused user experience will increase user return and double cart purchases.

With digital usage expected to increase, this is pushing the world into an era of greater focus on user experience, uniquely branded interfaces, and value creation. This will further separate the innovative companies from the ones that did not focus on designing value for their customers. With that being said, DESIGN will continue to play an even more critical role in our daily lives and will determine the success or downfall of companies in the future.


Design is a huge business growth factor. The most innovative and fastest growing companies in the world share one thing in common, they use design as a disruptive differentiator to effectively create a deeper connection with their customers. Studies have shown that companies that invest in DESIGN are more successful than the ones that do not.

According to a recent study by DMI institute, results show that over the last 10 years design-led companies have maintained significant stock market advantage, outperforming the S&P by an extraordinary 228%. Out of a pool of 75 publicly traded U.S. companies, just 15 meet the criteria. These companies include Apple, Coca Cola, Ford, Herman-Miller, IBM, Intuit, Newell-Rubbermaid, Nike, Procter & Gamble, Starbucks, Starwood, Steelcase, Target, Walt Disney and Whirlpool. DESIGN has had a huge impact on their innovation, growth and customer loyalty, making DESIGN-led companies the market leaders.

Using design-led thinking will not only grow your bottom line, but will differentiate your offerings in the marketplace.


In diverse markets and industries customers decide which businesses win. The intent of design is to put customers in the driver seat. This fine point also extends to employees, partners, suppliers and other key stakeholders, this is a critical step in fulfilling customer needs.

My perspective has always been, if you don’t connect in a relevant, meaningful way with your customers, you will not have a business. This starts with empathy, anticipating customer needs, and exceeding their expectations.

Organizations should have these discussions with their clients on a regular basis with a focus on:

  • Delivering ROI and the bottom line
  • Creating intense customer loyalty, creating “super brand fans”
  • Adapting to the needs of their continually changing customers
  • Pivoting the organization to serve their customers in a meaningful way
  • Training their employees on personalized care
  • Changing mindsets from transactions to relationships

This design-led approach focuses on treating their business as a service. When we do this right, their organization becomes a constantly evolving eco-system that breaks down walls, innovates faster, and grows in new ways to exceed customer needs creating value.


Start with fulfilling basic human needs, addressing and understanding their pain-points and listening with empathy. This begins the design-led process to rapidly innovate and get to market with a powerful branded experience.


  • Focus on customer value
  • Intuitive, analytics led user experience
  • Standardization & harmonization process
  • Orchestration of experience


  • Customer focus
  • Relevant innovation
  • Deliberate simplification
  • Standardization & harmonization of process


  • Integration of Data
  • Orchestration of Business Process
  • Accelerated Innovation & Scale
  • Agility
  • Continuous Delivery Model

Design is more important now more than ever.  When you put customers first, use empathy, and focus on creating intense brand loyalty through carefully designed experiences, your organization will not only survive this crisis, but thrive in the new normal.

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Hung Vu
Hung Vu is the Global Lead for (b) the Design studio of Brillio and personally leads the Design strategy & ideation practice. Prior to joining Brillio, Hung was the Group Director and Studio Lead at Fjord/Accenture Interactive, Agency Lead at Acquity Group, Marketing Director at Fusion-IO, Regional Creative Director at Siegel & Gale, VP Creative Director at Digitas and Design Director at Sapient. Hung Vu is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow him on LinkedIn.