Good Design is Good Business


TL;DR: The ‘build fast and break fast’ era is coming to a close because companies are recognizing the high cost (both real and opportunity) of using developer time on activities that have not been tested for market potential. Instead, design and rapid prototyping is being seen as the better way to increase production speed and quality while reducing costs and risks of failure. Understanding this change is easy, but transitioning seems hard. It doesn’t have to be; keep reading to hear from experts on how you can adapt.

’. The need to build fast and beat competitors to new markets to survive fundamentally changed how companies gathered information, mobilized teams, and produced the great products people use everyday. To keep pace, companies embedded new organizational structures, development processes, and software, but forgot one fundamental component of proper product development - design.

Design Fast, Test Fast & Launch Better

As product teams adopted aggressive development processes to beat out competitors (read as “agile”, “lean”, “scrum” etc.), it forced UX design teams into a reactionary role of patching interfaces under even more aggressive deadlines.

Now, don’t read this as yet another “focus on the user” pitch or another plea to give design teams the time they need. UX designers understand the need to produce quickly, but they want to “design fast, test fast” so that products launch at a higher quality and with fewer risks. They want a seat at the table to help product teams iterate and test prototypes in the early development phases to uncover new opportunities and kill bad ideas before they become expensive for the company and a headache for end-users.

From Forrester's report on design thinking.

This ‘build fast, break fast’ culture comes at a price, creating problems for bootstrapped startups, venture-backed enterprises and everything in between. It creates feature-discovery issues for product teams, drowns customer success managers in on-boarding tickets, and makes marketing and sales team cringe when they have to write or say “seamless and easy to use” when they know what customer success is truly dealing with.

Silicon Valley investors and entrepreneurs like Hemant Taneja are discussing the end of the ‘build fast, break fast’ era, citing examples like Facebook and suggesting that entrepreneurs focus on building products with real value for individual people. Taneja described it best when he said:

"In short, the 'move fast and break things' era is over. 'Minimum viable products' must be replaced by 'minimum virtuous products' - new offerings that test for the effect on stakeholders and build in guards against potential harms." - Hemant Taneja.

But to avoid diving into more jargon or arguing semantics, let's consider the numbers.

Ignoring Design is Expensive for Everyone

There have been dozens of reports and hundreds of articles from companies like McKinsey, Forrester, IBM, and InVision that have proven the ROI of design thinking. These reports consistently show that companies that incorporate their design teams at each phase of development experience a 30-40% increase in their overall profit margins, cut development times in half by… yada yada yada….

150+ pages of good ole' data

Did we lose you? It’s okay. We know these reports often fall on deaf ears. And the good folks here at DesignMap think we understand why.

To make the value and impact of design more tangible, Chris Jones, a seasoned product executive and product parter at Silicon Valley Product Group, discusses how the design of enterprise software is now at the center of how products are positioned and evaluated. He argues that a product’s design must now tell a story to both the user and buyer, primarily because of two main drivers:

  1. Rise of enterprise trials
  2. Rise of purchase authority for small teams

These two drivers severely impact one another. As smaller teams are allowed to purchase their own tools, the demand for a free trial during the sales process increases. This is happening because the end users are now the buyers of enterprise software, causing the traditional lines between buyer personas and user personas to disappear. As these lines continue to blur, the product trial has become center to a prospect’s evaluation process. Chris Jones reiterates this when he talks of the successes he had when he managed Vontu:

"Through demos and screen-shot workflows, we put the product at the center of the sales process. These communicated the value proposition, but more importantly they established the conceptual framework upon which all other competitive solutions were evaluated. Not only was Vontu [acquired by Symantec] delivering real value to its customers, it quickly became the solution to which all other vendors were compared." - Chris Jones

Jones also argues that product design is inseparable from a product’s core value proposition, and enables new paths and markets for sales to tap into. With the rising standards in enterprise software, also known as the ‘consumerization of IT’, smaller teams now have the authority to purchase the applications they want, rather than being told what applications they’re allowed to use from a more detached executive team.

To recap, design has proven to reduce development costs and time, helps marketing compete with rising user expectations, and plays a critical role in how sales closes deals through intuitive product trials that are designed for the user, and not just the buyer. Oh, and if all goes well, your customer success team can focus on up-selling features rather than putting out fires.

Good Design Increases Velocity

If you read most of this post thinking that this is still going to throw a wrench in your release schedule, you’re wrong

Jeff Gothelf, author of Lean UX and Sense & Respond, has written extensively about challenges in product management and their interoperability with diverse teams. He details how good design is actually a secret weapon to product agility. He acknowledges that “Design is often cited as a bottleneck” by critics who are afraid of slowing down production. He adds that teams that fail to include design are often “resorting to upfront design phases that can then feed the software development machine” in a waterfall like manner. However, Gothelf argues that if a design team is properly integrated into a product team as a first-class citizen, design actually increases the agility of the team. But you don’t have to take Gothelf’s or our word for it. It’s backed by the Forrester, McKinsey, and InVision reports on design ROI and production speed.

Clearly, ignoring design and forcing designers into a reactionary role has a negative impact across an entire organization. It has left the entire business-side of a company grasping at more and more collaboration tools because we can’t seem to patch the holes that started with the product fast enough. And despite what critics say, the impacts on the bottom line and product cycle are too positive to ignore any longer.

But What Can You Do?

Even if you understand these issues and see the potential, what should you do about it? What can you do? It’s hard to ask product and engineering teams to delay or adjust their release schedules and expect them to help bring a new design culture across an organization at the same time. Realistically, product and engineering managers are already pulled in too many different directions and designers almost always get left behind in the shuffle.

There’s an easier way, and starting down this new path may be as easy as sending a meeting invite to your design team and treating them as equal members of the product team.

Want specifics? Register for an advance copy of What CEOs Need to Know About Design by Audrey Crane, a long-time Silicon Valley design leader. Audrey is currently a Partner at DesignMap.