For many, Steelcase is best known as a global interiors manufacturer serving the corporate sector. Lesser known, but a key driver of their success and market differentiation is their world-class insights and innovation practice, which pioneers solutions giving employees a happier and more effective work environment. Global companies like Steelcase are often faced with challenges managing content and brand across multiple regions, languages, and service offerings. Operating with a presence in the Americas, EMEA, and Asia Pacific, Steelcase approached Method to develop a structure that will represent their brand consistently over multiple regions with a goal of driving efficiency for ongoing content management for their largest digital platform: steelcase.com.
Client and Challenge
Founded in 1912 as the Metal Office Furniture Company in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Steelcase’s innovation legacy began in 1914 when they received their first patent for the manufacturing process developed to make a strong, durable, low-cost fireproof wastebasket – a major innovation at that time. That first patent in 1914 led to metal desks, and they’ve led the industry with product and service innovations ever since. Their portfolio of solutions now includes three core elements: interior architecture, furniture and technology. The result is a comprehensive portfolio of products, furnishings and services for the workplace, healthcare and education spaces.
With products ranging from furniture and structural materials to interactive whiteboards and fabrics, the global Steelcase website attracts architects, interior designers and business officers seeking best-in-class products, as well as detailed design and purchase information. In the decade since launching, the website served as a marketing communications channel for presenting product and corporate information. After ten years, a decision was made to evolve the Steelcase platform with a focus on enhancing the experience using innovative interaction design principles and open-source technologies, while further aligning the content strategy to global operations. Over the course of the project, the teams defined a new cohesive website strategy and design system that shifted the experience from a marketing tool centered on a product catalogue to a strategic business tool that not only presented products in a compelling, useful way but also conveyed Steelcase’s brand thoughtfully and consistently across multiple regions.
Providing an additional unique challenge for the Method team, Steelcase’s digital platform supports a wide variety of audience groups. It equally serves the needs of architects and interior designers as well as C-level executives and business stakeholders across multiple sectors looking to better understand how the nature of work, and work-spaces strategically drives business performance. Method intentionally focused throughout the project on providing end-to-end solutions for a complete customer experience across all of Steelcase’s audience groups and content types.
Because Steelcase's business is done through a variety of key channels, Method was required to organize a complex system of information that needed to be clearly communicated to a diverse customer base. Understanding the complicated information architecture, and aligning their internal operations around the new content strategy and global content management system was the most important challenge to overcome. The team worked through this challenge by hand-sketching and developing prototypes, which were then integrated with iterative design reviews and collaborative workshops involving stakeholder interviews and co-creation methodologies. This allowed Method and Steelcase to act as a unified client/consultant team creating a viable digital solution for a very complex ecosystem.
After clearly establishing a set of shared cultural values, the Steelcase and Method teams designed a program of work that involved two rounds of global audience research with participants from across the USA, Mexico, UK, Belgium, South Africa and Malaysia using innovative, virtual research techniques. The team utilized a formal research methodology that gave Steelcase the support needed to make decisions for the website. The team initially spent 90 minutes with 23 research participants representing Steelcase customers from each user group and multiple regions. They then performed another round of validation of design concepts with several of the initial research participants to ensure the design and strategy decisions were the correct ones. This second round of validation gave both Method and Steelcase the confidence through data to pursue the restructuring of steelcase.com and validate its costs.
Working from their clearly established and focused design methodology, the final design provided digital experience solutions that communicated Steelcase’s brand, products and service offerings to a diverse group of audiences within their global digital ecosystem. The ability to maintain a consistent brand language while supporting global content, regional content and local content with a foundation rooted in user research has set up steelcase.com with a solid framework for years to come. The website launched on March 5th 2015 to critical acclaim and has seen a significant increase in traffic.