This is the fourth in a series of blog posts sharing the results of our study on the business value of experience design. Read the last post here. In this post, we explore the value of a lean design: A collaborative approach to design that is pragmatic, inclusive, and moves fast to show valuable purpose to the company and its customers.
Design, and everything it entails, comes with many misconceptions and preconceived notions about being an ambiguous, mysterious dark art. There is some truth behind those allegations. Design encompasses the emotional and intangible elements of a product and is often only associated to its limited, tangible aesthetics. Bad product design invokes an instant reaction from the user, but good product design is effortless and therefore unnoticed and even further misunderstood. To compound matters, designers are terrible at explaining the value.
We all want great design, but for many organizations, design is a new or foreign concept. When a new project lands on their desk, it’s like they’ve landed in Oz, the Wicked Witch is not happy, and they just need get home. Frustrated, people tend to buy into myths. The first myth is that the Wizard – a lone design hero – is going bestow deep customer insights into a never-before-seen creative design that will be easy for developers to build in a Tuesday afternoon hackathon. When Wednesday comes and goes and it’s not there yet, the frustrated project team settles in for the long, arduous journey to follow the Yellow Brick Road. They wait weeks for the customer research to come in, another few weeks for the big design reveal to come down from mountain, and hope they can make their release date that has suddenly zoomed into view.
We believe that digital product teams, the customers they serve and their business stakeholders deserve better.
First, we need to consider the value of speed and velocity in product development. The faster the product can bring new value to its customer, the sooner the business can start to see the economic benefits of their investment. Great design teams look for areas to accelerate the design process and interact with their stakeholders more frequently. One of the primary routes to making things faster is simply avoiding the activity that is only adding marginal value to the project. To those without an understanding of design, all of the activity might feel like low-value fluff as they wait for their design hero (or Wizard) to arrive. Less spend on design means more spend on features! But great design also results in better features, and in many cases, eliminates features – and therefore time and money – that just don’t matter to the customer. It’s not always easy but finding the right balance of design effort that is just enough – but not less – can be tricky. Product teams need to have an open and deliberate dialogue about precisely how they are going to incorporate design into their process.
Designers, engineers, and business people working together in perfect harmony? For centuries the project mantra has been: “Cheap, fast, and good. Pick two.“ But digital product teams have the advantage of instant collaboration and communication tools, access to customer and market data, and, for many teams, the ability to prototype, experiment, and test quickly. We have lowered the barriers to transparency and real-time collaboration to allow for an iterative, co-design experience that is simultaneously accessible to designers, engineers, and business people. We can take a feature from an idea in the morning, to a visual prototype in the afternoon, to an interactive, data-driven prototype the next day. Stakeholders and end users can start giving feedback on what they see, engineers have a better understanding of they need to accomplish, and the sales and marketing teams can start formulating their messaging. There is no substitute for this kind of rapid feedback that not only produces a better product, but also demonstrates the real-time value of design, reduces everyone’s anxiety, and builds trust amongst the team.
Alas, there is no Easy Button for this day-in-the-life story, and it does take a holistic organizational commitment to change. But the good news is that there are proven ways to get it done. The iterative process is not new to developers but is relatively new to designers. A deliberate adoption of Design Thinking, Lean UX, and other iterative process models takes some adaptation and will need some clear-eyed discussion about how it fits into your project funding model and your engineering processes. But these models have matured quickly and pair well with prototyping tools, integrated DevOps models, and dedicated Design System tools that are also readily available. Progressive designers are also taking on more “t-shaped” profiles, having broad design skills with one and sometimes two specializations – even deep technical understanding if not development skills.
Every business deserves to give their customers a well-designed digital experience. In fact, it’s simply not an option given today’s customer demands and expectations. It’s not as easy as closing your eyes and tapping your heels together three times, but you might find that you don’t have look any further than your own backyard.