Microsoft reaping benefits of building in-house design team

Microsoft Store is among a growing number of retailers adopting a hybrid approach to design work by building expertise with an in-house team that works in tandem with external agencies.

Speaking ahead of his presentation at RetailEXPO Benson Chan, principal design director for Microsoft Store at Microsoft, describes how his organisation has been transitioning to this model over the past two-and-a-half years and has accelerated the move in the past 12 months.

“All campaigns were done by agencies back then, and UX work was on an ad hoc basis but it was not a cohesive strategy. I see a continuation of our move [to a hybrid model] and each year we’ll evaluate it,” he explains.

The rationale for the move was based on two key factors. Firstly Chan says “nobody knows your brand, and where your company is going, more than internal employees,” so it makes sense to have expertise designed in-house to help drive creative and user experience strategy . Secondly, the economics can be favourable depending on your company’s budget structure.

Agencies are still vital

However, he is very keen to point out that the Microsoft Store continues to work with agencies as he acknowledges that they bring certain benefits. These include the fact that if a retailer wants to evolve and innovate then it is very important to bring in agencies and other experts when required for specific roles.

“We bring in people when we’ve not got the expertise. We have a partner where we outsource a portion of work. We also think about what design and user experiences could be done with our own employees and what work could be done with the partner,” he says.

Microsoft Store will bring in third-parties for what Chan describes as production design work. This includes the campaigns and promotions that Microsoft Store runs on a daily basis for its storefront on the web, on Windows, and on Xbox. “This touches billions of customers daily across all markets. There are [many] variations of the offers so we do this production design work through a partner to help us scale strategically in an economic way without sacrificing quality,” he says.

In contrast, strategic work will be done in-house. This includes the major seasonal campaigns such as Back to School and Holiday, as well as customer journey strategy and key product launches on the web. “For these big campaigns the creative strategy comes from my teams. We build the tool kits which other Microsoft channels like web, CRM and physical stores will leverage, as well as third-party retail partners,” explains Chan.

The creation of an in-house design team has also helped bring the voice of design to the decision-making table within the Microsoft Store organisation. This has given design and user experience more influence in the organization.

Educating stakeholders

However, there has been the odd challenge. This has included the team’s need to educate its stakeholders on the art and science of design, and how some things take time in contrast to demanding immediate results from their design agency partners.

“Our journey has been about educating stakeholders within the Microsoft Store organisation on how best to work with designers, how we align with business strategy, and adding business impact with the quality in our work,” suggests Chan.

To hear from Microsoft, register to attend RetailEXPO 2020 on 29-30 April.