Design for Growth
8 December 2019 • Article
Design has an important role in business. For years, designers have advocated for it. Evermore, companies are seeing that in a disrupted, competitive landscape – good customer experience is key to survival. There is strong research to show that (good) design has big impact on a companies bottom line.
But is Design on it's own that important? Speak to a lot of executives and they'll say that ‘a good look and feel’, ‘strong brand’ or ‘usability’ are key to their core product. Which is true. It's a cause of celebration that we've come this far that a CEO of a large company can understand the need for UX. The ‘business world’ has learned to let design in on the conversation. But, unless designers can speak the language of business they'll always been seen as a ‘L’ on a profit/loss sheet.
Will your company really be that much more successful if your fonts are nicer? Or if you make sure your copy is much more ‘human friendly’? Perhaps. Perhaps not. All systems, products or services are ‘designed’ in someway, but the act of design isn't exclusive to ‘designers’. How you buy your coffee from Starbucks is designed. Design, in of itself, isn't automatically profitable to a company.
To be effective, designers need to show leaders that design can be a strategic contributor to the company.
Ironically, Design as a practice contains a huge set of skills to be more than a costly asset. We have excellent skills to go and help businesses venture into new markets, drive growth, improve product quality and increase revenue. The problem is, a lot of designers aren't being asked to work on these problems. But the even bigger problem is, not many designers understand these problems.
Successful companies such as Airbnb, Dropbox and MailChimp have all made the connection between good design and high growth. They've found ways not only to improve their product, but to align those improvements with growth targets. Instead of throwing money through their marketing channels or buying up Facebook ads, their growth came from strategic changes to their product and marketing. A lot of companies love to A/B test decisions, changing a button from red to blue, to try and improve conversions. What these companies have done, however, is leverage design practice to drive massive growth by making substantially better design decisions.
If design wants to become more than just a flashy commodity and transform into ‘a scientific way to run a business’, to paraphrase Daniel Burka, then designers must speak the language of business. I've worked out a couple of things design teams need to focus on to show the value of their work;
Understand why your business exists - Speak to your CEO, sales and marketing teams to find out why your business exists. How do you make money? What keeps the lights on? What keeps them up at night? As a designer, you're used to understanding different types of users. Your company and those who operate it are no different. Empathise with them, understand their world.
Understand growth metrics - Understand how companies measure growth. Companies generally see their customers run through a funnel, all the way from acquisition to activation to retention. Learn where you company is strong and where they are weak. Don't get bogged down in the details though. Understanding where the company wants to be in 6 months or even 6 years is just as useful.
Stop speaking about artifacts, start speaking about value - Yes typography, colour, spacing and layout are important. But does your VP of sales need to know that? No. Keep that to you and your design nerds (unless they ask of course). That should be ‘shop talk’. What your company will really value is your creative thinking. How to ask questions. How to frame problems. Utilise this myth of the ‘creative magician’ and bring some creativity to the team.
There are loads more ways you can show value to your company as a designer. But the key thing here is to go to them. Don't wait for your company ‘to get design’. Just like when you're designing for any user, it's your job to understand them and communicate effectively.
That includes your colleagues.