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Demonstrating the Value of Design. Posted on 07/18/2002.

Last weekend, I attended the 5th Advance for Design Summit. The goal of the Advance is to evolve the role and definition of design, particularly "experience design", which, I'm told, is the kind of design I practice. Prior summits necessarily suffered from omphaloskepsis--we looked within our community, attempting to lay a foundation of roles and responsibilities that we could generally agree on.

In this 5th Advance, this community turned an important corner, emphasizing on how we connect with people in other disciplines, particularly business. Thanks to this looking outward, I found the 5th Advance a far less frustrating experience. I'm not going to detail what happened; Erin Malone has done a great job of that already.

One of the more successful elements of this year's summit were the breakout sessions, where small groups (3-10 people) were each assigned a topic to mull over, and then distill their discussion with the group. I was involved in the discussion of "ROI and design," wherein we tried to hash out that sticky wicket about the *value* that experience design brings, and how to communicate that value with business folks.

There were three particular threads in our discussion that I found particularly valuable. They were attempts (though we didn't state it as such in the meeting) to develop taxonomies that spell out what designers have to offer. The individual lists were illuminating, and it turns out they dovetail in some interesting ways.

The first list we came up with was around the question, "What are the *values* we are providing?" (Please excuse the roughness of the verbiage... this was my attempt at capturing what was being said, real-time)

Satisfied Users

  • Accuracy
  • Efficiency
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Better informed employees
  • Reduced findability costs
  • Improves productivity
  • Goal Accomplishment
Saving Costs
  • External
    • Market research tools
    • Word of mouth!
    • Improved customer service
    • Competitive differentation
    • Improved retention
    • Reduced training cost
  • Internal
    • Risk management
    • No need to redesign over and over again
    • Making solid requirements
    • Reduced maintenance costs
    • Operational efficiencies
    • Reduced documentation
    • Easier to implement
    • Fewer technical problems
    • Makes IT investment go further
    • Scalability
    • Increased sales, reduced sales cycle
  • Increasing Revenue
    • Repeat buyers
  • Create a Smarter Company
    • Getting different parts of the org to talk to each other (communication)
    • corporate politics
    • Better knowledge for decision making
    • Building awareness
    • Knowledge management and decision support
  • Misc
    • Getting the client promoted (client’s growth)
    • (for consultants: being a disinterested third party)
    • Corporate Image

Now, while this isn't exhaustive (it's just the result of a brainstorm), what struck me is that the single longest section is about how we can save costs, and, particularly, internal costs. When we think of design, we tend to focus on the effect of the artifact on its users; however, this list suggests our single greatest area of value is in how our processes and products can streamline work.

Another intriguing list was an attempt to classify the attributes which design bestows:


  • Desirable
  • Memorable
  • Approachable
  • Trustworthy
  • Useful
  • Usable
  • Findable
  • Consistent
  • Quick
  • Clear/Understandable
  • Efficient
  • Achievable
  • Accurate

We ended up with the following brief list of benefits we can provide. The idea here was to frame this in terms of value of the business--When someone asks, "What can you do for me?" (Yes, this is similar to the earlier "values" list...)

When talking the CFO/"Business Guy"
  • Reduced construction costs/risk
  • Reduced operational costs/risk
  • More revenue
  • Corporate/Goal Accomplishment
When talking to the head of Marketing
  • Brand equity
  • Satisfied users
When talking to the COO or CIO
  • Internal knowledge
  • Internal productivity
(I don't know why operational costs weren't placed under the COO. I guess the word "cost" encouraged placement under "CFO").

I think that it would be of great value to the community of "experience designers" (or whatever) to seriously flesh out this list. And, in fact, such an activity was given high priority by the conference's steering committee as we move forward.

One of the ways it was considered using this list was to frame sentences that are meaningful to folks in business, by saying, "We can provide through by creating designs that are ." Something like, "We can provide REDUCED OPERATIONAL COSTS by REDUCING THE SALES CYCLE through designs that are EFFICIENT." Something like that. (This all still needs to get worked out).

Anyway, I also think it's the start of a cheat sheet for folks out there who are trying to convince others of the worth of what they do. It's always been one of those things where we have a gut feeling that our work is valuable, so of course you should pay us. But as the economy increasingly demands results, being able to frame your efforts with some of the language above might prove helpful.

7 comments so far. Add a comment.

Previous entry: "A DVD Rental Service for Cineastes."
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Great list, Peter! Although we might rail against the notion of filthy lucre ppollutiong our lofty user-centric design goals, the bottom line is, well, the bottom line. Thanks for reporting the results of your group.
Posted by Joe @ 07/19/2002 05:38 AM PST [link to this comment]

I went to the first Advance for Design and didn't go back because it seemed like a largely theoretical exercise.

As a design contractor what to you is a huge dollar job is probably being approved by someone way down the management chain, ie you are not going to have the opportunity to make a case to the CEO / CFO / or anyone who marks the confluence of strategy + money in the company.

So big goals like "corporate accomplishment" and "internal productivity" are not going to fly far. People are much more interested in which of TODAY'S PROBLEMS are you solving.

Also, it's one thing to claim you're providing a value....another thing entirely to set up means of measuring the improvement...another thing entirely to be willing to be evaluated & compensated according to that improvement.

Managers are interested in things that can be measured, including but not limited to the bottom line. Everything else is optimistic speculation.
Posted by Been There Done That @ 07/19/2002 08:07 AM PST [link to this comment]

Good lists, but where on Earth did you find the word "omphaloskepsis?"

That aside, when I read the word "ROI," I expected to find things like, "Increase qualified leads by 7%" or "Decrease shopping cart drop-out by 15%." I think details like these and their corresponding numbers are what really convinces people --especially the people in the trenches with whom we have more chances to interact.

It must be noted that, no matter how small these numbers are, as long as they're positive numbers, people have been impressed. People are grasping for some demonstratable changes that affect "revenue" or "satisfied users" or "internal productiviy."
Posted by indi young @ 07/19/2002 09:46 AM PST [link to this comment]

Indi, your points are right on... And is part of what we'll want to flesh out as we go forward... One thing I didn't mention in my lists, but which was discussed, was how we can measure both the attributes (desirability, usability, achievability, efficiency, etc.) and the values (reduced training costs by 14%, increased sales by 22%). We know that any smart business is already tracking these kinds of numbers... The trick is correlating those numbers with activities we engage in. (And this is not easy... WebCriteria has a whole business based on just this.)

I must express... annoyance at the dismissive attitude of "Been There Done That." Both for attempting to take the pioneer ground (being at the first Advance), then dismissing it as theoretical, but, finally, not willing to come forward, hiding anonymously. That's hardly productive for this discussion.

Now, to his (I'm assuming it's a 'he') point that managers are interested in things that can be measured... Yes, definitely. And we did discuss that, though we were focused on laying a framework for measurement. One of Alistair Williamson's (CEO of WebCriteria) big points, though, is the degree to which managers *don't* measure things. Alistair promotes the idea of "management by objective," which, while not original (and he'll be the first to admit it), is often not practiced. The point here being, we need to convince managers to measure impact, if only to validate our value.
Posted by peterme @ 07/19/2002 10:26 AM PST [link to this comment]

This seems like a good place to ask: how is business for your company, Adaptive Path? Are you finding that the downturn in the economy has affected clients' willingness to spend money on your services? Do you see the situation improving, Peter?
Posted by Kevin @ 07/20/2002 04:06 AM PST [link to this comment]

Well, Adaptive Path was launched in March 2001, at what was I consider the lowest economic point. (I don't think the current bear-ish stock market is really reflecting current economic reality...) So, we've only known business in this 'down' economy. And since we launched, we've kept pretty busy. We had an eerily quiet first quarter this year, but since April things have picked up remarkably (something we hear from friends in other companies, too). And at this very point, we might be the busiest we've ever been. I don't know what to "read" into that. I'd be wary of making too many extrapolations to a wider economy from my business of 7 people. I think, more than anything, that after a year and a half, AP is coming into its own, having built a momentum that is now a matter of sustaining -- it helps that we have no plans to hire staff, which would require yet more momentum building.
Posted by peterme @ 07/20/2002 08:58 AM PST [link to this comment]

Ahemmm (clearing my throat) "goddangit" - Speaking of justice and corporate evil-doers, you will enjoy Declared
"brilliant" by some critics, it is
funny reading with a bite, mildly
sarcastic, and sure to make you laugh out loud. The music is beautiful, too. There is an important message
re corporate fraud and greed. See if you can find it. Now, fix yourself a
stiff drink, relax, and prepare to have a wonderful time!!
Posted by EDWARD EUGENE BASKETT @ 08/21/2002 09:29 AM PST [link to this comment]

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