The Business Value of Design: An in-depth look at the impact of design on business and business on design.
Natalie de Canha Creative Group Head
Understanding the role of design in the success of today’s business landscape, and in building the brands of the future.
DESIGN, BUSINESS, VALUE
The year where digital became the key to survival for most local and global business entities.
Over the years, the buzz of ‘digital transformation’ has floated around the heads of corporate giants as a ‘slow and steady’ branch of a business’ offering.
In some cases, going as far as reducing digital innovation as a ‘nice-to-have,’ which seemed like a far-in-the-future objective business could tackle at a later stage.
It’s undeniable that the COVID-19 pandemic forced digital transformation upon many companies (for some, far sooner than planned). Prepared or not, however, digital-first experiences are here to stay, and the consensus is growing that design deserves a seat at the strategic table, as we shape how those digital-first brands of the future exist and operate (Creative Review 2022, Why businesses should be led by designers).
Defining & Understanding the Value of Design During "The Decade of Design"
In order for us to understand how design can be perceived as valuable in a business context, we need to better define the concept of value as a whole. Value can be understood as an attribute that determines the perception of how much something is worth. People tend to make decisions in their day-to-day life by assessing value, such as “Should I buy that product?” or, “Should I subscribe to that service?” Similarly, as they are considering the financial implications or return on investment (ROI) of product or service experience offerings, business leaders may ask: “Should I hire designers?” (Andres Esquivel, Solutions, Not Art – The True Business Value of Design).
We can derive business value when an experience that has been designed provides customers with a solution to a particular problem that eliminates pain points, reduces friction, and/or meets a core user need. For a business, this might translate to increased conversion and sales, higher profit margins, better customer acquisition and retention, and enhanced customer loyalty. Therefore, designers cement themselves as value-driven professionals, and design as a value-driven discipline, because businesses are primarily looking for results, i.e., value delivered.
As dubbed by a prolific venture capitalist and general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, Peter Levine.
“Products and companies will live or die by their product design and design literacy,” he wrote.
As a product designer myself within the contemporary digital age, one starts to understand the shift in consumer mentality as we create new features and functionalities across assorted verticals. It’s evident that our general consumer base doesn’t have the same patience they once did with digital products that are difficult to use. Users “expect better, deserve better, demand better” (Creative Review 2022, Why businesses should be led by designers). It almost feels as though it’s no longer “optional” to have good design, and that good is simply the expected benchmark at which we now evaluate digital experiences.
With that in mind, design becomes a fundamental asset in a business’ ability to understand their consumers, and how they interact with products, services, and platforms in not only expected ways, but the unexpected deviations they might throw into the mix. In our daily lives, we are faced with constant reminders of the way strong design can be at the heart of both disruptive and sustained commercial success in physical, service, and digital settings.
“Amateurs give advice, experts diagnose.”
Chris Do, founder and CEO of Blind.
The role designers play in business success
While ‘decent’ digital experiences could wow consumers in the past, now, decent feels like the bare minimum. The more the competitive landscape levels, the more one has to play on the nuances of how good those experiences are on a plane between ‘good’ as the baseline, and ‘exceptional’ as the goal.
Designers are custodians of experience, and have the seasoned ability to laterally engineer those nuances on a constantly evolving spectrum of ‘good’. By nature, humans are curious and inquisitive, and as a result there is often a surplus of people in any company with interesting and innovative ideas to improve product and service offerings. Designers, however, have the ability to take those ideas and make them tangible against real-world proble
The role of design in establishing a competitive edge and driving success is undeniably significant. It acts as a critical distinguishing feature that sets products, brands, or services apart in a crowded marketplace. Natalie de Canha Creative Group Head @ MakeReign
As an example, often the most common desire people propose to me when discussing potential business ideas is to focus on the mobile application they need to build to successfully implement their offering. When we take a step back to drill down into the problem they are trying to solve, though, and the way in which their solution seeks to do that, we start to unpack the thought that maybe an app isn’t the best/ only/ most permeable touchpoint after all.
A design specialist has this ability; to diagnose business problems first, rather than jumping straight into platform solutions. Value-driven designers understand a client’s problem(s) before suggesting solutions. How can a solution be offered if the problem has not been deeply and empathetically understood? What are we then solving for? Designers bridge these gaps between concept and completion, and as we continue to evolve with the technologies we create against, and the people we create for, we start to understand that this is only truly successful in a collaborative approach.
Design, development, business and user are no longer siloed segments in an organisation's overarching landscape. Real-time communication and collaborative tools (such as Figma) have allowed specialists to solve problems in a multi-disciplinary way, where each discipline brings a solution to life from all angles. In this approach, designers become partners rather than service execution resources. Shifting the cultural narrative in this way can help companies to leverage the power of design thinking and execution in meaningful ways for their user base, and their bottom line (Peter Levine, Investing in Figma: The Decade of Design).
Designers therefore need both hard and soft skills to achieve these business goals in an optimal way that alleviates user pain points. ‘Hard’ skills attributed to the discipline may include visual design, UX/UI design, wireframing, prototyping, and user research and testing. ‘Soft’ skills may look more like a strong sense of empathy, communication skills, listening to feedback, the ability to adapt without investing personally into solutions, and the ability to collaborate within multidisciplinary teams.
At their core, though, designers are problem solvers and storytellers who know how to bring ideas to life.
The difficulty in measuring the return-on-investment (ROI) of design is that its impact isn’t restricted to a single product, service, experience or campaign. Delivering value lies in creating a full ecosystem of extraordinary experiences across every touchpoint, from an original Minimum Viable Product, and through every iteration that follows that offering’s life cycle. This is no easy or simple task, and requires investment from all business, technical and experience pillars within an organisation in order to turn the concept and goals of design into reality, and subsequent tangible outcomes with key benefits for users and business.
“It’s up to design leaders to help deliver value, but also for a company to build good design into its core,” agrees Cyphers. “The best way to demonstrate the value of design is to keep delivering work that resonates with users and inspires them to share it with others.”
Thus it becomes more clear to us that design functions as a critical pillar of success within a business. It may not be the only pillar, but neither is any other discipline in isolation; success manifests as a result of the synergy between business, experience, and technological outputs, all centred around solving critical user needs. When we know the role we play and the value we bring to the table, we begin to understand the business value of design.