Mar 30, 2023

Service Design: Why adidas Is Setting ‘North Stars’ With the Consumer at Its Heart

Aura Patiño, Lead Service Designer at adidas, opens up on what the Service Design team does and the benefits it brings to the company.
by Aura Patiñostaff

For over 70 years, adidas has be continuously evolving its products, perfecting every detail to deliver exceptional sneakers, apparel, and accessories among other products. But this mindset actually goes far and beyond just the products themselves.

Everything around them – from the moment people see an adidas product, to the moment they engage in adventures wearing them – must be carefully designed. Enabling people to discover, purchase, use, and connect with adidas beyond the point of purchase. We don’t just offer products; we offer unforgettable services and experiences.

adidas is committed to creating consumer experiences beyond just products.adidas is committed to creating consumer experiences beyond just products.

Creating experiences based on understanding

To effectively design the consumer’s experience in a holistic way, we must connect external and internal perspectives. This is where service designers at adidas come in. We work with teams across the company to understand the market, identify trends and anticipate expectations.

In a nutshell, service designers at adidas are multi-faceted professionals who wear many hats: We’re integrators and choreographers, researchers, designers and builders, facilitators, and visionaries. Above all, we’re deeply passionate about people, the planet and our products.

Introducing consumer-centered North Stars at adidas

In an ever-evolving world, businesses and brands must adapt and innovate to stay ahead of the curve. They need to create meaningful experiences that are relevant, desirable, and sustainable if they’re to shine out from the crowd.

Our role in this is to help identify business problems or opportunities and give guidance on the strategic direction that follows. Internally, we have called this approach our ‘North Stars’.

For centuries, the North Star has served as a navigational aid – a guiding light that helps ensure travelers are headed in the correct direction. This is just how we see navigating the landscape of adidas – our North Stars are the long-term vision of consumer experiences for the next 3-5 years.

To define a North Star, it’s essential to have a comprehensive understanding of consumers’ needs and perceptions, while staying ahead of behaviors, trends and demands. These shape our objectives and goals, It is a vital aspect of strategy development, while providing a shared sense of purpose and direction to guide our teams forward to contribute to the success of the business.

Consumer touchpoints continue to expand, so we must continue to evolve to provide the best possible service.Consumer touchpoints continue to expand, so we must continue to evolve to provide the best possible service.

Here are three things I consider to be important when setting a North Star:

1. Be empathetic

As service designers, we practice empathy by observing people in their environment and talk to a wide array of stakeholders, all while researching the impact and ecosystem around a specific design moment. By focusing on connecting the dots during our research phase – and putting ourselves in other people’s shoes – we can make informed decisions that will result in the design of services and experiences that are more intuitive, empathetic and enjoyable.

Companies and teams shouldn’t focus on designing their strategy solely from an internal perspective. This will limit their scope of their reach. By practicing empathy and combining and internal and external view, companies and teams will be able to anticipate people expectations and planet needs.

Independently of which team you are in, defining a consumer-centered North Star will allow you to engage in the future with consumers in a more meaningful way.

2. Be innovative. Be creative. Be unique.

We encourage and empower our teams to innovate, with people at the heart of the design process. This results in products and services that are not just relevant and desirable, but also unique.

Anyone in any part of an organization can innovate and be creative. Why do we feel that this isn’t always true? Because there needs to be a conscious decision to allow and drive innovation across an organization. You need to create a space for creativity and provide the right inspiration. This will help you to stay relevant in the future and keep your organization ahead of the market.

At adidas, we create that space as part of the definition of our North Stars, where teams ideate, review their capabilities, and co-create innovative solutions that can be implemented across the years.

Creativity allows us to embrace unique, best in class solutions.Creativity allows us to embrace unique, best in class solutions.

3. Respond to global challenges

Thinking about the future helps us to prepare for – and adapt to – the uncertain and rapidly changing conditions we’ve become accustomed to over the last few years.

Defining strategic direction gives teams a clear focus on their end goal, but at the same time can grant them flexibility along the way by anticipating potential risks and future opportunities without losing sight of the bigger picture.

This approach fosters a long-term mindset across the company, reducing the tendency for short-termism and enabling teams to make decisions that align with the company’s overall goals. As a result, teams are better able to navigate changing conditions and make informed decisions that ultimately contribute to the company’s success. They know where to go and they know what to do each quarter in order to get there.

As service designers, and visionaries, we play a crucial role in co-creating consumer-centered North Stars with teams at adidas and we believe that having a long-term consumer mindset is critical for all employees of our company.

We’ll be sharing more about our journey in the coming months, so stay tuned.