CXO Insights: Don’t Dabble In Design, Make It ‘ESE’


By Steve Monaghan, Regional Director, Head of Edge (Group Innovation), AIA


Shortly after his return to Apple, Steve Jobs famously said “you’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back to the technology”. Steve was right. Pure and simple. He obsessed over design. His legacy is obvious.

What makes for a great customer experience?

Simply, we need to make it ESE for customers. Experiential, Simple and Easy. ‘Why we buy’ has been well researched. We make our decisions based on emotion. We justify with logic. We take action when it does not require too much effort. If we translate this into design principles: User Experience (UX) creates emotional connection; Simple is cognitive (understanding) and Ease is effort. ESE.

It feels right. I understand it. I can get it.

The diamond company DeBeers understood these principles well. They created the emotional connection to diamonds. Diamonds last forever like true love. Just ‘three months salary for a lifetime of bliss’. Available anywhere, it is easy to buy your dream.

Inspiration, aspiration and commitment. ESE. Simple.

As the esteemed Harvard Business Professor Michael Porter elegantly defined, there are two types of strategy in business. Differentiation or Cost Leadership. In the physical world, they were viewed as mutually exclusive. In the digital world, design unifies strategy. Good design is differentiation. Great design is differentiation and cost leadership. Why be good when you can be great!

So as we design digital businesses, we need to take these principles to heart. In practical terms, construct UX that creates the emotional connection between your brand and your customer. Design information to enable customers to reach their logical decision as quickly as possible. And minimise effort in swipes, wipes and types.

As with most innovation, diversity creates magic. Designers no longer have exclusivity over creative capacity. Sales no longer have exclusivity over the customer relationship. Businesses no longer have exclusivity over insight. Our opportunity as leaders is to bring together our teams to create those magical intersections of creativity, customer and insight.

We know great design drives revenue, reduces cost and increases customer satisfaction. But investing in design takes courage. It is difficult to calculate a ROI on design up front, but difficult decisions are what distinguish us as leaders.

Having spoken with leaders of many of the world’s most disruptive digital startups, one consistent theme holds true. They invest a lot of money in design, a lot in engineering and relatively little in sales and support. Simply, they design products that sell. They make them ESE.

So do not dabble in design, rather invest in bringing the talent of your organisation to bear on making your customer’s lives ‘ESE’.

Source: This article first appeared as a blogpost at under the title ‘Don’t Dabble In Design’

About the Author:

steve monaghanSteve Monaghan is Regional Director, Head of Edge AIA accountable for AIA’s group innovation agenda.

Originally a commercial pilot, Steve has held a number of senior corporate and banking roles in product, marketing, operations and general management. He has worked for a number of leading corporations and financial institutions including Dell, Compaq, Citigroup, OCBC, Shinsei and DBS Bank. Throughout his career, Steve has specialized in introducing new business models, businesses and products in all major markets in Asia and has filed 6 patents.

Steve is a frequent presenter and lecturer around the world on subjects including Innovation, banking, Working Capital, M&A and Investing in China. He co-authored a five year China IPO study and has been frequently published on topics including Working Capital, Investing in China and Capital Collaboration. Steve holds an EMBA with ‘first in class academic standing’ from the Helsinki School of Economics.

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