It’s easy to talk about why your work matters to other UX professionals, but how do you convey its value from a business perspective? UX design isn’t about aesthetics; its value lies in aligning design choices with tangible business value.
We asked Dan Winer (Design Head, Smile.io) for advice on how UX designers and researchers can be a part of the business conversation, and better understand the impact their work has on user experience.
Dan is a certified UX genius, with over a decade’s worth of experience in everything design. He believes that if you want to grow your career as a designer, you need to connect the dots between the work you want to do and the value the business wants.
This article is all about how you do that.
According to Dan, designers need to ask 3 things about their work - Is this desirable, viable, and feasible?
On the deepest level, this is about interrogating whether the solution provides the transformation the user is looking for. Truly understanding your user is crucial for this.
Never let the macro picture out of your sight. Your customers aren’t there because of a feature, they’re looking for a transformation. If it’s a B2B product, it's a business transformation. Identify and truly understand what is it that they’re looking for.
Is the product viable from a business perspective? Can you actually sell it, or is it going to add value to something else that’s being sold?
Feasibility is the practicality of development. Can the solution be built with the resources and technology that are available at hand? What would it take?
Check out "When Coffee Competes with Kale for more on this!
A successful product lies at the intersection of these 3 factors: desirability, viability and feasibility. UX designers need to learn how to balance all three in what they create.
Designers today are a diverse bunch, and fall on varying scales of expertise about feasibility and viability. But Dan says that it’s essential for UX-ers to educate themselves on it. Doing this also requires an in-depth understanding of the business first.
Dan recommends this exercise for UX designers to fully learn about their company’s business model. It’ll also make you better at talking about your work in terms of business value.
Do an ecosystem mapping that outlines how a business delivers value to its customers, how it charges for it, and the corresponding revenue streams. Chart out the intricate web of interactions between the product and its users.
Take Spotify for instance. Let’s do a little ecosystem mapping. Spotify has advertisers who give them ad revenue. In turn, the advertisers get analytics. Spotify also has free users. They give them minutes of ad listening exposure, along with more data to finetune the algorithms.
Dan recommends every UX designer to visually chalk out such a map for their product, and collaborate with other team leads to fill up the blanks. Talk to CFOs, accountants, and product managers to thoroughly understand the business model. Ecosystem mapping can be an extremely valuable artifact for all departments about each other’s contribution.
It’s never a good sign if you don’t know enough about the analytics or metrics that directly relate to your work. Dan says that you should insist on getting access to the metrics that matter. If you’re at a firm that doesn’t care about measuring the work it does, that’s a dysfunctional environment. Get the processes set up if you must yourself. On the off chance that you don’t have the answer even after asking multiple times, it might be time to start thinking about your options outside the company.
This is completely optional, but it’s beneficial to learn about business and the industry you work in. You don’t have to get an MBA, but maybe think about taking a business course? Dan has done it, and says that it's something that designers should look out for and try to learn more about.
According to Dan, the best way to do this is to first understand the relationship between leading Indicators and lagging Indicators in your product.
Leading indicators are forward-looking metrics that provide early signals about the potential success or failure of a product or feature. They help you anticipate future outcomes and make proactive adjustments to their strategies. They’re harder to uncover though, but change rapidly in response to team actions. Customer feedback, A/B testing results, and conversion rates count as leading indicators.
Lagging indicators are instead retrospective, and assess the historical performance of the product or feature. They’re easier to spot but quite unresponsive and hard to change. Revenue and customer churn are some examples of lagging indicators.
Let’s say that you’re working on a user onboarding process. How do you connect the design changes you make to tangible business outcomes? Subscription revenue, for example, often involves a complex web of factors, so you cannot attribute a minor adjustment in design to a subsequent surge in paid subscriptions rolling in a month later.
Dan says that designers need to bridge this gap, by focusing on indicators directly linked to their work, such as the completion rate of a specific onboarding step. A higher completion rate indicates the impact of design choices on user engagement, leading to a higher likelihood of subscription. Instead of claiming credit for distant outcomes, demonstrate how your work influences specific metrics. This is how you also foster transparency about the connection between design efforts and broader business results.
To do this effectively, designers first need a deep understanding of how the business generates revenue, including leading indicators like completion rates, activation rates, and program health. This is where exercises like the ecosystem mapping we talked about come in handy.
Now let’s say that you did all this and you’ve identified significant metrics impacted by your work. Suppose a design change you made decreased drop-offs at a point in the onboarding flow measurably. Who do you bring it up with? How do you make sure the business knows what you’re doing?
This is also a good time to remind yourself that your career goes beyond your current job. Building a career involves gathering data to construct compelling case studies, showcasing achievements that transcend one role. And it’s a fact – designers fluent in the language of leading and lagging indicators often appear more competent, regardless of their actual performance.
Ultimately, a company’s success hinges on the collective achievements of the team, not on individual designers. So the best way to make sure the business knows what you’re doing? Build bridges within and with the other teams. Build good relationships with product teams and collaborate with the PMs on showcasing your team’s achievements.
You can connect your work back to initial research, showcase mockups, and see that your contributions are effectively presented, even if it's not always the designers delivering the message.
We had another question for Dan - how can you help your organization along in the pathway to UX maturity, as a UX designer/researcher? How do you ensure that a company is truly customer-centric?
Every company believes that it is customer-centric by principle, but operationalizing it often takes a back seat when it doesn’t directly impact metrics.
As Dan says, engaging in open conversations, especially with leadership, is a valuable practice. It’s only by talking about it, that you get closer to addressing the fundamental question – Does the company truly prioritize customer-centricity? Does it consistently deliver value to its customers?
Talking about it also reveals varying perspectives; some might believe that the issue lies in communication gaps, where the company indeed provides value but doesn't convey it effectively internally or externally. Others might pinpoint a deficiency in product marketing as the cause of customer unawareness regarding product releases and responsiveness to their needs. At the end of the day, achieving customer-centricity might not stem from low UX maturity alone, or the need for increased user engagement. It can also be rooted in broader organizational aspects.
While having conversations that advocate for customer-centricity, it helps to have a framework in place that reminds the team of its limitations too. You need to know what the customer wants, but also what might not necessarily align with providing them with the desired transformation. As Dan points out, one of the risks associated with too much customer centricity is ending up with an overcrowded rubbish dump of features without any focus. UX designers need to have a proper understanding of what they can provide that aligns with customer needs, as well as the company mission.
Dan has condensed a decade's worth of experience in UX design to also create an incredible career guide for designers. You can join the waitlist for it here.
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