7 Minute Read

Reimagined Corporate Design Strategy

South African Financial Services Provider

A Fully Remote Project

Project Summary

Our client approached Freethinking to perform a strategic review of design across a large sector of their enterprise, as well as propose a practical roadmap to implement a robust, modern internal capability rapidly. The augmented capability aims to close the experience gap and deliver design services to project teams across the business while encouraging design best practices that will ultimately offer consistent, unified services and experiences to customers.

Problem First

Discovering And Validating Problems To Be Solved

The client’s problem:
A historical legacy of underinvestment in design created a sufficiently large gap in experience between our client and its competitors that it was untenable.

The client had proposed to significantly ramp up its central design capability to work with teams across the business in an effort to close the gap but was unsure of the approach for the application of this built-out capability.


Agile Collaboration

The Covid pandemic constrained physical access to stakeholders within the client enterprise. Understanding the impact, we mitigated this problem through online engagements and in-depth reviews of current processes & artifacts. To understand the maturity of internal design systems and design ops protocols, we conducted multiple remote interviews with staff across the enterprise. In addition, we unpacked presentations, specification documents, and other business artifacts to build out a picture of past, present and upcoming projects and initiatives.

We interrogated organisational charts to construct a map of design and customer-focused job roles across the business and then set up interviews with as many stakeholders as possible.

Through these interactions, we constructed a picture of the role of design in the business.

Value Offering

The Business Value Of A Strong Design Capability

Typical of enterprises at this scale, some of the project teams we engaged with were unaware of this initiative. We, therefore, ensured that we invested time up front to explain our purpose and the critical importance of design to the success of a modern corporate enterprise.

It is critical to gain buy-in from project teams and stakeholders. This support and the stronger relationships were crucial to easier access to teams and materials and open and frank dialogue during these engagements and interviews.

In a major five-year survey of 300 publicly listed companies over multiple countries and industries, those with top-quartile McKinsey Design Index Scores outperformed industry benchmark growth by as much as two to one.


Service Ecosystem Mapping

The client environment is complex, and several competing projects are underway without centralised monitoring or effective coordination, prioritisation and oversight. Our first challenge was to map out the structure and inter-relationship of entities in the business ecosystem at a macroscopic level.

The ecosystem is federated into functionally independent units (further subdivided into business and technology teams), and projects are typically managed and funded in silos.

The federated structure of the business meant that digital projects were developed in parallel by multiple teams distributed across the business and built-in collaboration with a number of third parties. In some instances, large multi-dimensional projects like Lending straddled multiple silos, but this was not the norm.

Strategic Design Audit

Legacy Systems were initially built with little to no input from Design Specialists.

Designers were typically permanently assigned to specific areas of the business and remained embedded in a particular context.

As Design teams are typically isolated from one another, there’s little awareness of the “big picture” or fidelity to common standards of practice.

Design System Review Findings

A design system is a collection of reusable components, guided by documented standards, that ensure consistency across projects and teams.

  • Our client is a part of a larger group who did have a reasonably well-entrenched design system in place. Unfortunately, its use was not closely monitored or systemically encouraged across the Group.
  • With siloed project teams having autonomy over local design decisions and compliance with the overall design system considered optional, fidelity to the design system varied massively from project to project.
  • Recently initiated projects tended to show more congruence than older ones. Still, generally, the decision to adopt the Group design system was left to individual designers or 3rd party project teams.

Design Research Capability

We also investigated the client’s CX research methods and capacity and found the following deficits:

  • Duplication

    Multiple research initiatives happening concurrently.

  • Product-Based

    Current research is feature-based, not journey-based.

  • Underutilised Research

    The results of successful initiatives are not shared and findings not disseminated back into the business

  • Scattered And Inconsistent

    No standardisation of format and methodology for ease of use.

  • Limited Mandate

    Research is not mandatory and is conducted on an ad-hoc basis when time permits.

  • No Coordination

    Research is undertaken without big-picture context.

Competitor Analysis

Having completed our investigation of the client’s design capability, we were able to offer context with a detailed comparison to competitors, both locally and internationally.

For this exercise, we created a set of evaluative metrics that together formed a baseline Design Maturity umbrella. The Design Maturity metric had the following sub-comments:

  • Team Dynamics

    The size and range of design skill evident.

  • Design System

    Design System maturity, adoption and applicability.

  • Design Effectiveness

    Efficacy, measured in terms of business integration, coordination, CX research and toolset consistency.

Team Dynamics
  • Team skill makeup
  • Team size
Design System
  • System maturity
  • System adoption
  • System caters for context
Design Effectiveness
  • Integration with business and tech
  • Practice coordination
  • User testing and research
  • Toolset consistency

The client ranked in the lower half of the market when compared directly with peers.

The Solution

Having evaluated the client’s challenges in detail, we were in a position to ideate on future strategy.

We had ascertained that the problem extended far beyond a simple lack of design manpower or design skill. To create a sustainable solution, we needed to architect an entirely new design practice fueled by an altogether new design ops philosophy.

Proposed New Design Practice Components

We envisaged a new autonomous design pillar of the corporate that would stand alongside the business and tech pillars.

This new design practise would be made up of three interlocking sub-components:

Experience Design Coordination
  • Governance & journey alignment
  • Skills development & best practice
  • Archetypes, design patterns & systems
Experience Design Execution
  • Service design
  • Interaction design
  • UX and UI design
Experience Design Research
  • Client Research
  • Usability testing
  • Behavioural data analytics

Design System Review Findings

The new Experience Design Research Area would offer specialised Data Science that would offer the following Customer Data Enrichment functions:

Expanding Sources for Client Data
  • Tracking interactions on digital platforms
  • Automated feedback from customer emails
  • Customer Queries / Complaints
  • Social listening (mentioning, #, common themes, topics, surveys or mentions of competitors)
  • Market or landscape industry research
Evaluating Success Through Metrics
  • Quantifiable goals for your project
  • Analytics use metrics to help you make decisions about how to move forward
Assign Data Champion(s)
  • The sole purpose is to focus on curating customer data
  • Ambassador across the organisation
  • Working with stakeholders to identify opportunities to improve data curation
Improve Data Visualisation
  • Make the analysis openly available to the downstream business units and design teams
  • Automate your Discovery of Insights that can generate more frequent outcomes
Actionable Insights
  • The missing link between data and business value
  • Identify trends and tendencies in operations and customer behaviour
  • Understand clients’ desires and needs better
  • Measure performance efficiency
  • Recognise operational systematic and non-systematic errors Identify market gaps
  • Measure employee satisfaction

Proposed Journey Team

The journey team replaces the existing feature team to build end to end experiences for clients.


Our detailed analysis of current design activity allowed us to devise a bespoke Design Practice for our client.

Our solution offers a digital self-service platform for clients and a guided wizard with precise requirements, defined by a rules-engine and documents matrix. A new dynamic case management framework enables and optimises backstage processes.

Key Features

Detailed Evaluation Of Current Design Capability

The client’s current design capability understood and unpacked across multiple variables, including research capacity, design system maturity, data topology and design ops practices.

New Bespoke Business Structures

An entirely new Design Practice business entity proposed, architected to fit the client’s environment, ecosystem and needs.

Design Coordination Across The Enterprise

A coordination function to operate as the “brain” of the Design practice, ensuring coherence, consistency, governance, best practice, strategy and alignment across the Group.

Advanced Customer Research

A robust new CX research function to operate as the “eyes” of the proposed Design practice, bringing client insights, usability test results and behavioural data back to the business and journey teams.

Focus On Execution And Journey Team Dynamics

An execution function to operate as the “hands” of the design practice, offering skilled design resources for journey teams building end-to-end solutions for customers. The execution details are articulated in a new project methodology and team structure focussed on delivering rapid results for customers.

A Detailed Behavioural Data Strategy

A focus on delivering rich insights from customer behavioural data and a centralised repository housing, standardising, managing and offering access to all client research across the enterprise.

A Methodology For Metrics

A custom methodology for implementing, measuring and reporting metrics for success across all new design projects.

Practical Implementation And Rollout Plan

A realistic roadmap for implementation, taking into account existing staff and projects, and the challenges implicit in transforming old approaches to a new way of doing business.


Shift From Product To Customer Journey Mindset

Instead of focussing on product, project teams are empowered with a new approach to focus relentlessly on holistic customer journeys. This crucial shift in perspective and approach will rapidly deliver solutions that delight existing customers and attract new ones.

Projects Informed By Data And Insights

The new research function and focus on customer-centric data science will deliver unparalleled insights to understand and meet customer needs. Thus, new initiatives will be validated by customer data prior to initiation, reducing the business’s overall risk and expense.

Oversight And Coordination

The new design coordination function will prioritise projects, eliminate duplication and redundancy, align journeys, offer guidance, best practice, design evangelism and sustainable governance.

Rapid Collaborative Delivery Of Results

The new journey execution teams, structures and methodologies will deliver with maximum agility.

Reusable Design Patterns, Components And Capabilities

An emphasis on design systems, UX and UI pattern libraries and reusable “capabilities” will enforce consistency in experiences for the customer and drive rapid delivery of solutions.