The most successful designers solve problems with a clear point of view. Maybe they even conjure a bit of magic. But creativity isn't enough. Design is a business, after all. And once you grasp the business side of your work, you don’t just design better, you also have a stronger position from which to defend your design. It might feel like extra work in the beginning, but business fluency always pays off in the long-term for your career. In this piece, we discuss five strategies for increasing the business value of UX design—but many of the tips apply to other design areas.
The business model canvas is a handy document for quickly visualizing any business model. These canvases come in different variations, the Service Model Canvas or Lean Canvas to name a couple, but their purpose is the same: find the perfect balance between user needs and business needs.
Designers might not be the ones filling out this form (usually that's the job of a product manager, business analyst, or cofounder), but you should understand the framework. The canvas helps defines the direction of the product’s design. You'll want to pay attention to the following fields:
Customer Segments — Which customer groups the product targets. Note which ones are most important, and the differences between mass/niche markets, and between diversified/segmented markets.
Value Proposition — The point of the product: what user problem it solves. Note the differences in value between different customer segments.
Key Activities — The actions necessary to achieve the value proposition. What needs to happen?
Key Resources — Physical, intellectual (patents, data, etc.), human, and financial resources required to turn a concept into reality.
Channels — Which channels work best for the product. Note costs, how they differ between customer segments, and how they fit with user preferences and daily routines. Channels can be divided into five phases:
- Raising awareness about the product
- Influencing the user's evaluation of the product
- Allowing users to access or purchase the product
- Delivering the promised value
- Providing services after the sale
Cost Structure — All the relevant costs, fixed and valuable. Note which costs are most expensive, and whether your company is cost-driven (Walmart) or value-driven (Gucci).
Revenue Streams — Everything related to money coming in: how much customers are willing to pay, how they’re paying (one-time or recurring?), and how much each stream contributes to the overall revenue.
While all of this information might feel overwhelming, you don’t need to know every single detail by heart. The process of uncovering the information is much more important since you’ll likely collaborate with other departments and reach a shared understanding.
It’s easy for designers to get lost in the world of clean interfaces, responsive frameworks, and fluid interaction design. But the people making the most important decisions think in terms of "monthly churn," "conversion rates," and "net income." The better you understand their language, the easier you can communicate and earn buy-in for your own ideas.
Collaboration between departments is required for all great design decisions. Talk directly with your stakeholders to find out what they want and why.
Say you’re working on a landing page redesign, and the sales team wants a signup form with eight fields to better profile and qualify leads. This weakens the UX, but their concerns are valid. Do you violate design principles and create a bulky form? Or do you stand your ground no matter what?
The answer is neither.
Think beyond the page so you can tweak the whole flow. In this case, perhaps you could suggest a technical solution like "progressive profiling" that asks a little bit more information from users at each signup touchpoint. Work with the sales team to trim their original eight fields to five, then start testing the progressive forms.
You’ll probably get more signups than the original eight-field single form (thus delivering high business value), and get cleaner data (since people aren’t filling out gibberish to get past the form).
Design collaboration shouldn’t mean compromise. When executed correctly with a clear design leader, smart solutions begin to reveal themselves to everyone.
Kim Goodwin provides a good guide for interviewing stakeholders from multiple departments.
Under normal circumstances, friction is the enemy of great user experiences. But sometimes, friction works to the advantage of the user and the business.
For example, a window alerting users of a crucial update (or confirming a serious decision like leaving an invite-only chatroom) provides information without disrupting the experience. Redirecting users to a separate page, on the other hand, adds too much friction.
The right friction can also help make your product easier to understand. For example, left-aligning labels on signup forms encourage users to pause and read each line carefully, as opposed to top-aligned labels. This tweak adds only slight friction, but can improve the experience for users and help the business side gather leads.
Friction has other uses as well. Slightly increasing the effort can filter out undesirable users like spammers (think of Dribbble’s invite-only system). It can also make your product more memorable, as the act of figuring something out leaves a stronger impression.
When she was at the software company Intuit, the UX team conveyed suggesting that the company simplify multiple tiers of products into one license. Executives resisted, until the team tested their assumption on a small set of users using the experiment grid and found the single license sold better. With the quantitative data in hand, they sold the executive team on the idea. The single-license product now outsells everything else.
Moral of the story? Learn hypotheses-driven UX design.
But it isn’t enough to just present that data. You need to weave that data into a narrative that executives can relate to and digest quickly. Because, as Google’s Daniel Waisberg points out, the combination of data and meaningful stories engages people on both an emotional and intellectual level.
We’re fans of Smashing Magazine’s Business section and Google Ventures's Library because they provide practical design perspectives on very real, pressing business issues. To bring fresh perspectives to your own company, you must go beyond the daily grind. Whether it’s virtual learning or an IRL mentorship, seek the wisdom of others.
This article was adapted with permission from the free 109-page guide The Essential Elements of Successful UX Design.