Design Thinking for Salesforce Admins

Foundations of Design Thinking for Salesforce Admins


The truth is: You are already doing design tasks. Your process inherently uses design whether or not it’s on your resume. Choosing a layout? That’s user interface (UI) design. Timing newsletters? That’s user experience (UX) design. Aligning color palettes to branding? That’s graphic design. Weaving design considerations into admin decisions has likely become automatic in your workflow.

The opportunity for you to properly claim and integrate your design skills has never been more timely. 

The demand for design skills continues to grow. In 2019, this skill set was required in 15% of job descriptions for Salesforce Admins. Plus, the “digital designer” role is expected to grow “much faster than average” in the U.S. over the next 10 years. It’s a movement that Adam Doti, VP and Principal Design Architect, has been tracking closely. He encourages admins to prioritize design as an important element of their career journey. “When administrators embrace and adopt a design mindset and become Relationship Designers, they will move beyond the isolated moments of their end users’ experiences and gain a holistic perspective,” says Doti.    

A good place to start? Design thinking.

Step=by-step process for design thinking

Admins already use every phase of design thinking  

The design moniker may feel foreign, but it’s helpful to remember that the associated tasks are built into your current scope of work. All types of roles have tapped into design thinking since its origins in the early 1900s because it’s a flexible way of thinking. The order of the steps or the tactics in each section aren’t set in stone. It can be a non-linear process, but for our purposes, we will keep to a simple linear flow here. 

Learn more about each design-thinking phase below and skill up on each one in the new Design for Admins Trailmix in the Resources section below. 

Woman doing a video conference call on her computer.

Admins empathize with users

Empathy is the ability to understand someone else. You build empathy with your users constantly. You extend yourself to understand how your primary users in sales, leadership, and finance produce better outcomes with new processes. The same is true when you put yourself in the shoes of your secondary users — the company’s customers — to uncover what features they use and need most, and why. In the end, you become the trusted advocate for your users.

Designers call this human-centered design (HCD).

HCD is the how behind a desired outcome. It’s a creative approach to solving people’s problems that begins with identifying their needs and ends with creating solutions — products, experiences, and services — that meet those needs. Strengthening knowledge around HCD is a key way to have a better grasp of design. 

While these steps can go in any order, often after empathizing with users, it’s time to connect their needs to the business.

Two individuals pointing to data on their computer screen.

Admins define the business challenge

Defining or clearly stating the problem is a big part of your role. You do this when you evaluate your organization’s needs and your users’ needs to form an objective. You further put a point on this with key performance indicators. 

Designers call this Jobs to Be Done (JTBD)

JTBD is a framework for better understanding customer behavior. Coined by American economist Clayton Christensen, JTBD recognizes that people don’t just buy products or services. Instead, they “hire” a product or service to make progress in specific circumstances. When the “job” is clear, what you make can be further tailored to meet and exceed the need. The Christensen Institute calls out that this is especially true for underserved and underprivileged populations “for whom solutions are often misaligned with their true priorities.” If you are an admin also seeking to create more equitable services and products, this framework can help. 

When the job is clear, teams rally to find the best possible ideas.

Designer looking at graphics on his computer screen.

Admins ideate to find solutions

If you’ve ever imagined or conceived a new idea, then you’ve ideated. For admins, this usually presents as brainstorming UX or site flows. It can be done independently or in tandem with others. You may have even found community and creativity on IdeaExchange, where fellow admins help create and share ideas.

Designers call this How Might We (HMW)

There’s optimism around the phrasing, “How might we?” It’s a way that renowned teacher and researcher Min Basadur transformed problem statements into opportunities. 

That’s when ideas get transformed into reality.

An individual pointing to a design mock up on their computer.

Admins know what it takes to prototype

If you’ve been a Salesforce Admin for a while, you likely know that making preliminary renders of an idea inevitably gets the right product or service to market faster. This might mean quickly customizing color palettes, icons, and fonts on Salesforce. Whether you use Page Editor, AppBuilder, or Flow to do this, you can create something from nothing as the first step toward success.

Designers call these sketches.

At Salesforce, sketch is a verb and a noun. Admins often create images with the design toolkit plug-in (Sketch) that’s built to help anyone create wireframes, mockups, sample screens, and more. Taken to the next level, these images can be linked into a clickable flow within a digital product-design platform such as InVision.

The idea is real and it becomes even more real when it’s visualized. 

Two individuals working on a laptop and a tablet.

Admins build it themselves

At this stage, some roles that practice design thinking hand off to engineering. Not you. We know that you also implement the solution you’ve handily identified. That’s why our team at Salesforce adds this step into the process. As an admin who designs, you’ve already prototyped the webpage or app that you built with clicks, not code. Now you move it into production. In short: It’s shifting from design thinking to design doing. In the doing part, you look for repeatable design solutions for recurring problems. 

Designers call this a design pattern.

Take the creation of a new record, for example. Whether it’s a new contact or a new opportunity, how you create a record is the same by design. It’s efficient, transparent, and works across interactions. Design patterns lay the foundation for design systems, a collection of repeatable design patterns and reusable code, referred to as components. It’s what sets the Build phase up for success. 

Now that it’s up, let’s see how it’s working.

An individual looking at their laptop and data on a piece of paper.

Validation is built into your role

Accountability can fall to you for the quality, performance, and reliability of the build. That’s why your process builds in testing time. This happens when you share beta apps with a subset of users to let them try out features first. By doing this, you can create reports, chats, and forms that reveal insights that lead to optimizations.

Designers call this an A/B test.

A/B testing is when there are two different versions of the same feature. Through randomized experiments with a small test group, it’s helpful to get data on which items perform best — such as button text or the order of tabs in a tab set. In reviewing these phases, it’s clear how much design comes naturally to you. 

Doti notes that admins have a head start because they already embody excellent communication, stakeholder management, and problem-solving skills. There’s an opportunity to build on that with a few core design skills, fundamental UX heuristics (aka practical rules of thumb), and a comfort level around Relationship Design, our creative practice that drives social and business value by building strong relationships.

When your design knowledge grows, you can apply it to make better the experiences for your users, organizations, and career.

Eager to level up your design skills? Start with the new Design for Admins Trailmix,and be sure to join our new #BeAnInnovator with Design journey starting May 3!


Claim the design-thinking skills you’ve been using for years. Now, it’s simple to brush up on the phases, vocabulary, and best practices. 

Additional Resources: 

Thank you to the team who brought this article to life including Noelle Moreno, Adam Doti, Rebecca Saar, and Marc Baizman.

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