Using innovative design
to enhance the customer

Innovation is a word that gets thrown around a lot, particularly in design.

With more choice and competition in the market than ever before, innovative thinking helps brands adapt and improve to remain relevant with their customers or end users. Ultimately, this means continually searching for ways to design products and services that provide a better and more enjoyable experience.

With this in mind, we believe that true innovation should always start with design thinking – placing the customer or user experience at the centre.

Global design company IDEO defines design thinking as “a human-centred approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.”

In the context of designing for the built environment, this kind of empathetic thinking means asking questions like: how does a customer feel when they first enter a place? Is it easy to find and navigate around? Why might people be avoiding or congregating in a certain area? Is a brand’s presence within this environment obvious, and does it actively engage the user in more than just a transaction?

Adopting a user-centric approach gives the perspective needed to challenge potentially outdated assumptions around what a person wants or needs, and to draw attention to moments of friction along the customer journey. It is by critically analysing the ‘whole journey’ experience – and uncovering new questions along the way – where we believe the most valuable opportunities for innovation and improvement lie.

This is why our approach at Diadem is to make branded environments more than just ‘user friendly.’

We use innovative design thinking to continually challenge ourselves to actively engage with the built environment in ways that are memorable and meaningful. Making a real investment in the customer journey, we offer creative solutions that provide tangible human-centred outcomes for our clients and their customers.

A space we have been looking to continually drive innovation in is accessible or ‘universal’ design – a philosophy that ensures all design can be used and understood by as many people as possible, regardless of age, size, ability or disability.

In 2018, Diadem delivered an intuitive wayfinding strategy for the National Disability Insurance Agency’s (NDIA) and Department of Human Services (DHS) new Geelong headquarters. With a core mission of both organisations being to proactively work with the community to deliver outstanding disability support services, it was critical that the building focused on enhancing the user experience of employees and visitors, while also reflecting the organisations’ values of accountability, transparency and care.

According to NDIA chief executive Robert De Luca, “almost 12 per cent of NDIA employees identify as having a disability, so this new office will ensure our entire workforce has the accessible facilities, technologies and work environment they need to continue the important work they’re doing in delivering the NDIS to Australians with disability.”

Starting with a thorough analysis of the users’ end-to-end journey, best practice accessibility design principals formed the foundation of the wayfinding solution – with careful consideration given to the form, colour, recognisability and positioning of signage and digital interactivity zone. We engage as many senses as possible; in this case touch was essential part of a tactile solution.

The result was a state-of-the-art building which not only complied with all accessibility requirements but went above and beyond to create a comfortable, engaging space that could be understood, accessed and enjoyed by as many people as possible.

Human-centred design

Since this project, we have continued to challenge ourselves, our design practice and our assumptions to find new ways to integrate human-centred design in ways that better serve the user. This has involved moving beyond just physical and visual design drivers – considering how integrated technology can build upon and enhance the user experience.

An exciting new space that Diadem is exploring is the use of app-based wayfinding systems that can guide people around spaces in the built environment. An example of this is BlindSquare, an accessible GPS that has been developed in collaboration with those that are blind or have low vision, and is designed to provide accessible travel directions, along with the names and locations of millions of Points of Interests.

The City of Melbourne has recently set up new ‘beacons’ along Bourke and Swanston Street, which, via the BlindSquare app, send audio messages about potential obstacles to users’ phone. The program, developed by Guide Dogs Victoria, is designed to aid navigation through the city – helping improve this experience for those that are blind, have low vision, or speak a language other than English (and so struggle to understand existing signage).

Design thinking

We are excited to see more and more examples of innovative design thinking like this being embraced all over the world. In our own practice and that of our peers, we continue to encourage and embrace design thinking that can better serve, exceed and even predict the needs of customers and end users.

With the links between positive customer experience, brand loyalty and business success well established, this approach not only makes for better, more resilient brands but effectively future-proofs our built environment to provide more inclusive and accessible places.


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