Want to Die in the Desert of Auto Retail Innovation? Chase the Mirage of that Premium Design Agency

Skull in the desert symbolizing the risks in auto retail innovation strategies

Auto retail companies face considerable risk in staying ahead of tech-bourne market disruptors like Tesla and Amazon. These new entrants understand that digital innovation is a less predictable game played by very different rules. Will auto retail companies ossify into the remains of the obsolete? Or will they leverage iterative design, paying careful attention to what the environment tells them, and thereby unleash a market response superpower for auto retail innovation?

Embark wisely…

So there you stand in a sea of sand, feeling the thirst of your customers for a modern digital retail experience. Does the design agency you’ve hired have what it takes to make you last? Will they lead with an unwavering opinion, or will they change course with new insights?

Beware the perils of “Death by Design Agency”. The large ticket price guarantees shiny things like clickable prototypes, amazing visual design, and the best-in-class user interface that your product needs. The look-and-feel of an oasis is convincingly close—just a few klicks away. Watch out for these devastating pitfalls:

  • Mishandling of high risk assumptions
  • Prolonging the feedback loop
  • Designing in a vacuum

Pitfall #1: Mishandling of High Risk Assumptions

Assumptions are always part of the game, and the riskiest among them must be validated as early as possible. When design requirements are generated up front and en masse, they are often littered with assumptions at varying levels of risk.

Nonetheless, these requirements are then woven into planned epics, stories, and features that will impact various systems, codebases, databases, and interdependent microservices.

The more code that is built upon that risk, the more catastrophic an oversight can become. The cost of change grows exponentially over time! Iterative design allows balanced teams to constantly de-risk and revisit prioritization as new information and insights emerge.

Fantastical desert flora with teeth symbolizing risky assumptions in auto retail innovation.

In the desert, the riskiest assumption might be something like, “If we head in precisely one direction, we will make it out alive. We’ll extract water from cacti along the way.” Well, some cacti are identifiably poisonous, and you had better know how to find them in the first place!

Pitfall #2: Prolonging the Feedback Loop

Suppose you have slugged through the sand for a few days now, but to no avail. What’s the plan from here? Energy reserves are depleted, and you’re almost out of water. You have disproved the riskiest assumption the hard way…

Scorpion defending against fire ants in the desert, metaphor for resilience in auto retail innovation

Small, iterative releases in product development create opportunities to capture feedback and refine the roadmap. Were there indicators of more promising directions to take along the way? Perhaps the general direction was accurate, but a slight detour to a nearby outpost offered supplies, rest, and valuable insights from local inhabitants.

Large code releases are expensive to buy and slow to receive. Moreover, they fail to integrate regular feedback. This passes risk onto the user experience as well as to the maintainability of the code itself.

Pitfall #3: Designing in a Vacuum

What’s better than comprehensive requirements up front? Continuous discovery and collaborative iteration. Period!

A kindred analogy is found in “developer handoff”. It’s a developer’s vexation to inherit a mountain of design deliverables and high fidelity prototypes as their first experience on a development project.

“Here, check out this map I made of the desert. Let’s head north!” says the design agency. The map is beautiful. The sun at the top has a curious smile. The type is set in Papyrus. There are pyramids, cactus icons, and a gorgeous frame of desert palms. It’s brilliant!

Intense desert cheetah eyes capture the focus required for auto retail innovation strategy.

Sweaty hands holding the map, the green ink of the palms starts to bleed. The reflection of the sun off the map is blinding. Is there actually a cactus where the icons are, or is that just “visual design”?

“I need some water,” you say to yourself.

At its absolute worst, design-to-development handoff is linear. At its most efficient and enjoyable, the process is a fluid exchange of ideas, understandings, and iterations—a symphonic back-and-forth that wrangles the complexity of a system. A balanced team of multiple disciplines can attack a single problem from various perspectives.

Behold! A True Oasis in Auto Retail Innovation

Automotive retail companies looking to innovate, fear not! The right kind of design agency does exist. When considering a partner, analyzing the tradeoffs among them, and ultimately signing a check, speed-to-value should be top of mind. You simply cannot wait one or two quarters to receive stable, production-ready code.

With market disruptors nipping at your heels, the clock is ticking. Here’s what to look for when hiring support:

  • Lean, iterative design
  • Balanced teams
  • De-risking and ruthless prioritizing

Integral.io is among the rare breed of agencies that will dig in as a partner in your journey to progress. This species of agency is driven by a culture that produces thin slices of full stack work. Insights gathered from continuous discovery inform the next slice, and the next, and so on.

We have helped major OEMs and other players in automotive retail with eCommerce, finance, titling, and more, to overcome frustrations and inefficiencies by embedding designers, product managers, and software engineers who up-skill those around them while contributing direct value to the project.

Dune travelers in desert symbolizing teamwork in auto retail innovation journey.

Are you a Dune fan? Well, you should be. Integral and those like us are the “Fremen” to help you navigate the desert of auto retail innovation. With the right team and methods, you will thrive where others fight to survive.

Integral invites you to engage with us for a Product Success Lab—we’ll bring the right folks to help brainstorm lean experiments to de-risk and prioritize your next steps towards auto retail innovation. Oh yeah—it’s also free! Drop us a line, we’re here to help.


  • Danny is a product designer with a passion for collaboration and clarity. "Don't make me think" stands as his favorite design principle, whether navigating the fluidity of developer "handoff" or engaging software challenges on behalf of users. Danny believes that even as technology continues to advance, there will always be a demand for user-centricity at the heart of software design and development.

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