Infusing a focus on design into a company born from government contracts and engineering is no easy task, but Viasat has taken the leap. And design director Neil McIver, who joined the company just six months ago, couldn’t be more excited.
Successfully done, McIver knows design can transform a company’s success on all fronts — from public perception and awareness to profits.
“If you put the user at the center of the design process and really understand their problem and need, you’re far more likely to have success with the product and have it deemed valuable,” McIver said. “Without it, you may just have created a great technology that will not be used.”
Creative director Pascal Marsh put it another way.
“People today are one click away from competition,” he said. “So, having the right customer and user experience is essential.”
But just what is design? McIver said some people initially misjudge its importance because they might not fully understand what it is, or its impact.
“People often mistake design as only about the aesthetic, the pixels, user interface, basically the part they see,” he said. “Design is far more complex and layered, needing to consider the problem, purpose, the operability and the context. Products need to be useful, usable and used.”
Viasat’s design team, distributed among offices in Carlsbad, CA, Dublin, Denver, College Station, TX and Boston, is not thinking small. It’s tackling every aspect of the company’s product designs – from the visual appeal of our physical products to the intuitiveness of using the residential app and the simplicity of getting online in the air. And it spans all the company’s business segments, from government and military users to customer care, even to Viasat employees.
“Viasat may have traditionally been viewed as more of a technology-centered organization,” McIver said, “but we’re well into the throes of having our users and customers at the center of everything we’re doing. As a result, we’re looking at a design transformation.”
“We really are working to be the voice of the user,” Marsh said. “And our research and testing sometimes shows us designers aren’t always right. Sometimes assumptions are made, so we really need to test how people are using things and feed that back into the product development life cycle. It is a continuous improvement process.”
The design team is looking to grow and have more of an impact. In addition to the goal of creating great customer experiences for all Viasat products and services, the team is looking to educate everyone at Viasat on the importance and benefits of human-centered design and grow the overall design maturity of the organization. All of that requires research, testing and iteration to ensure designs will work as well in practice as they do in theory.
“We’ve come a long way from our designers touching a few user interfaces to now having them partnered with product teams influencing dozens of Viasat products,” said Carminia Panlilio, Director of CX Research, Insights, and Strategy. “We’ve also matured organizationally and now have a leadership team that provides community of practice for designers who are dedicated to business units, ensuring subject-matter expertise.”
“Community of practice” is a group of people who share a concern or passion, learning how to do it better as they interact. And that’s what’s happening at Viasat.
“We, as a collective design team, are committed to looking after the consistency and quality of products as they are both developed and launched,” Panlilio said.
Viasat’s next challenge involves growing customer understanding in all of the new geographic locations where products are being introduced to ensure the company has the best research insights and design considerations.
“Our team needs a deep pool of diversity to be able to work on a range of problems, including first-world problems – like those for high net-worth individuals in the business aviation space – to emerging markets and developing nation type challenges – like those for our Viasat Community Internet customers in rural Latin America.”
If that sounds like a lot, for McIver it’s what makes his work exciting.
“What gets me out of bed every morning is I’m a bit of a transformation junkie,” McIver said. “I think most designers are like this – we’re transforming products, services and experiences so they’re better than they were before.
“And if you could put me in a company where the processes were already all in place, I perhaps wouldn’t have found that as exciting,” he said. “I like being able to foster the culture and grow the team, learn from our mistakes and iterate. I like being part of that transformation.”