How good design is helping businesses in Vietnam grow
Business Case Study

How business in Vietnam are moving towards good design to gain user growth and profit.

Design is the art of the making the complex clear, the disordered ordered and the unusable usable.

As Thomas John Watson, Jr., the former CEO of IBM, once stated that

“Good design is good business”.

Yep. Design thinking has its own place.

A great design that has the “wow” factor makes products more desirable and appealing to users. In recent years, “design thinking” has become popular in various industries as established companies are leaning on and investing in optimized design strategies to support their next phase of growth when noticing that design is an influential conversion tool turning strategies into tangible business results.

According to Adobe’s State of Create 2016 report, 59% client will decide to do business with a company over its competitors based on good design, and 45% have even paid more for a product or service with good design. Over the past 10 year, design-led companies such as AppleCoca-Cola, IBMNike and P&G have outperformed the S&P 500 by an extraordinary 219%. Many companies and start-ups in Vietnam have also followed that trend and experienced initial successes.

First off, considering design and design thinking as an integral part of business success expects more than just curating creative assets. Successful design starts with an overall strategy that conveys messaging and usability to customers. This integration of all company’s aspects makes a good design an investment delivering sustainable values.

Money and Time Design

Basically, design thinking is understanding users’ needs and thinking creatively to solve their problems through products, services, and business design. It is the combination of techniques, such as Lean UX, customer journey mapping, and prototyping directly into the way the organization does business every day. It’s using the basic, proven tools of design to the maximum effect. A primary element of design thinking is simply thinking and ideating on a solution to resolve a problem or to better fulfill a customer need. It’s a mindset focused on solutions and not the problem. Design thinking offers a structured framework for understanding and pursuing innovation in ways that contribute to organic growth and add real value to your customers. Put it simply, it is all about putting yourself in users’ shoes.


From content to visual design, the strength of audience engagement is directly related to the strength of good design, as these efforts work to define a credible, trustworthy brand through consistency  , predictability  and visibility. User-centered design begins with developing an understanding of customers’ or users’ unmet or unarticulated needs. The purpose of user-centered design is where you start from the people who are in need of a solution, and end when you come up with the suitable one. Design thinkers rely on customer insights gained from real-world experiments, not just historical data or market research. It is an empathetic style of design.

And if you don’t believe me, believe the statistics.

Take Shopee’s success as an example. After only a year of launching in Vietnam, the company has risen to become top 3 e-commerce company with the highest average number of orders. Up to now, Shopee has reached 5 million app downloads, and increased number of products by 133% (4 million products). Shopee’s current gross merchandise volume (GMV) has crossed the $3 billion mark and expected the double-digit growth in Vietnam the following year.

Shopee Design Thinking
Shopee — the newcomer in Vietnam e-commerce market (source: 2017)
Shopee Rranking

Part of their success is due to their devotion to user-centered design that ensures the needs of the users are at the core of their design process. They believe in creating the best possible experience for users and devote real efforts to design a product for millions of users.

In January 2018, the Design and Customer Experience (CX) teams brought together Designers, CX-ers, Marketers, Developers, Product Managers from Singapore and Taiwan at Shopee HQ to do fill the gap between product functionality and users’ experiences and cultures. The process helps spur innovation, encourage user-centric thinking, andalign teams under a shared vision to launch products faster. Participants from different functions (e.g. marketing, design) were grouped and introduced to each other before embarking on the day’s activities: to understand user behaviours, to re-frame pain points into opportunities, to establish design guidelines based on user needs and to translate ideas into physical mockups. The individual teams then shared their findings of user segments with the wider group. This stimulated common understanding of Shopee’s wide range of users between different stakeholders. Accordingly, they focused on framing a design that met diverse user groups’ needs.

Shopee at work (source: Shopee desgin sprint)
Shopee at work (source: Shopee desgin sprint)

The process of understanding users designing experiences building products might be complex and challenging, but good collaboration between cross functional teams is essential for a useful high-quality product. Design thinking is a tremendous approach for producing viable ideas for innovative development. When companies become design literate, they will employ design thinking to address problems such as improving team dynamics or coming up with a product line extension.

The Shopee case proves that only after organisations being exposed to benefits of design they can understand its value and reinvest in it. Design thinking should be at the core of strategy development and organizational change in order to create a culture that’s focused on this way of solving problems. This way of thinking can be applied to products, services, and processes; anything that needs to be improved. To be successful, a design thinking program must be closely linked with the organization’s social dynamics. Design begins with setting a strategic intention.

If you are mapping out a strategy, you are designing.

Top 3 Million-Dollar Questions To Expect From Investors
Interview with Hui Woon Tan

Who are you? Why are you in this business? What is your approach? Get ready for those questions cause’ that’s what investors care about.

Entrepreneurs have awareness to spot opportunities, the creativity to innovate, the confidence to take risks and the tenacity to turn concepts into successful businesses. Entrepreneurs represent every field imaginable, and many of their ideas have helped shape industries and the world we live in. If you want to build a successful business and score funding, who better to seek for advice and wisdom than the investors? They have a wealth of experience and know what separates the winners from the losers.


So I decided to have an short interview with Hui Woon Tan to see what investors are looking for in companies and who they invest upon. Mrs. Hui Woon currently runs Alley 51, a venture builder which helps to build startups together with the founders. She’s been living in Vietnam for 8 years and she’s one of the first to invest in the well-known coffee franchise, The Coffee House.
Mrs. Hui Woon believes a market that has problems to solve is a place of great business opportunities, whether it’s problem about health, job opportunity or education. And Vietnam is that kind of potential market.

“Everything is a potential if people can actually see the need or problem to be solved. What special about Vietnam is the youthful community with inexhaustible energy which translates into passion and hungriness. People here are young enough to still see the world with ideal and hope.”

Align - Team Hands In

According to Hui Woon, for each investment, investors look at three main things.

People — What is the team and what have you done?

How have your careers progressed to the point where you are now uniquely qualified to build this business together today? Investor wants to know whether it’s a well-balanced team embracing diverse talents and styles, yet sharing the same value and vision for what they want to achieve together.

The Royals is one of the best diversity case study. The Royals was named Best Employer — under 100 employees at the 2017 B&T Awards. With around 80 employees who hail from 15 different countries and speak 12 different first languages, and with a 50/50 gender split, including in its senior leadership team, it seems The Royals are walking the talk. They also hire people from a range of backgrounds, and count a marine biologist, ex-journalists, lawyers, a criminologist and accountants as staff members.

Dan Beaumont, managing partner, said that “Diversity is important because a lack of it means a lack of relevance.” He also added that the diverse culture has allowed them to think in a diverse way for their clients and be able to do a diverse range of work. If the company’s employees are not diverse enough to reflect their audience, underrepresented communities will continue to be underrepresented or ignored. That’s a huge loss of benefit.

Approach — How you approach the problems, the solutions you are doing and the organization you are building up.

The right approach can mean a world of difference in business. Part of setting up a long-term plan is knowing where the problem spots are, as well as which business philosophies work better for which industries. That’s why having a strong group of peers and mentors is so important for leaders, an outside perspective, or someone who has already faced a similar misstep, can mean all the difference between struggling and finding success.

Purpose aka. the big WHY — Why you are starting the business, what drives you to do it.

The greatest thing that not many people consider is the why. Why you’re in the business and why you’re starting up (professionally and personally). Huiv Woon always asks startups: “How big you want your company to be?”. And that will determine how you take the business to the next level as well as what you should put focus on. The why is really important.

“If it’s just purely for financial purpose/money, I don’t invest in those kinds of company.”

Hui Woon believes what makes a business grow sustainably is their reason of existence. It should be about doing something good serving the people and the community.

Doing Good Business by Doing Good is no longer an unusual concept. It not only attracts and convinces investors but employees as well. The millennial generation, which now makes up the largest part of the workforce, is characterized by a desire for purpose. They want their employment to mean something. Sitting in a cubicle for the sake of pure profit and an occasional profit isn’t on their agenda.

One of the top startups in 2013, Ranku, a marketplace for online degrees from traditional universities, has incorporated social responsibility at the core of their company. Philanthropic strategies and strong shared values were particularly important when it came to finding investors who would want to work with them. Today, Mark Cuban and Microsoft are some of their largest investors. “I think it [social responsibility] should be a part of every business, even in the smallest way,” said Kim Taylor, co-founder and CEO at Ranku.

From that vision, you can sustainably build something that really matters. It is a strategy for the long term health of a company. “Creating something that matters is table stakes for getting your name on the map. Forget news for the sake of news; focus on being recognized for your impact. Consider why your idea is game-changing, then relentlessly build toward your vision.” — Sarah Hodges, partner, Pillar VC.

Align - Design is a visual Language

On the other hand, we all know that even the best product needs a nice packaging. That’s one thing you should never forget. Design is everything. “Design is a visual language to let your consumer know what value you’re gonna deliver to them.” If your company lacks resources in that area you can have professionals to help you with it. Design should be the last but not least step to complete your product.

So, are you confident with your answers to those million-dollar questions? Stay tuned next week when we interview a successful startup that have been well funded and see if they have a clear answer to these questions.

If you want to know more about Hui Woon and her business, go to