News & Perspectives

Design IS Strategy: 4 Reasons Design Matters More Than Ever

Design IS Strategy: 4 Reasons Design Matters More Than Ever

Perspective// Posted by: Christine Mason / 23 Jan 2014

I’ve always had an appreciation for aesthetics and function, but still, I used to be hesitant about advocating for design and usability when in the company of my developers and engineers (yes, even after the Apple revolution). There was something not quite serious enough about design to insist on it as a strategic priority. But after leading several companies and advising dozens of startups, I’ve come to believe the exact opposite- that design is not only “nontrivial”, but the essence of strategy and customer adoption.

For entrepreneurs or those launching new products into the market, design should be a fundamental concern and a foundational element of the business plan. It guides and frames the user experience and therefore drives what actions users will take (hopefully ones tied to your business model). In the case of branding and marketing communication, good visual design communicates at a glance what you want to user to know about your organization. And design decisions also determine an array of go-to-market and support costs.

Design Put the Emphasis Where it Belongs

Design guides the user through an interaction and drives attention to the actions the user should take. Any interface or interaction design should solve the core problem of the user in the most elegant way, driving a great experience of any product or service- AND it should also drives seamlessly point to a primary action- one that is aligned to the business model (buy, vote, share?). As my colleague Stephen Etheredge says, “don’t hide the buy button in a bunch of noisy graphics.”

This isn’t as easy as it sounds. To do this well, you really have to think things through- you have to know own your user, your own business, and what you intend the user to focus on. Michael Meyer, Partner at Essential, says, “The key to great products is not creativity. The key to great products is active empathy.” Active empathy is a great way to express the sense of standing in the users shoes, in their busy day, in the cognitive noise, and making your design SO EASY to use that it creates no friction at all between their intent and solution.

Design Elicits Emotion: When People Love Your Product They Adopt It

People are hardwired to respond to beauty and elegance. And people adopt what they love- use your design opportunity to make more love! People are loyal to their prior choices, and the switching costs to make a new decision are high. Once users have made a buying decision, it’s very hard to shake it. Create love at first sight, and invite your users to stay.

Design is Visual Prose: It Communicates 100 Ways

Human perception is highly skewed to the visual experience. Design isn’t just pretty — all the visual cues you provide frame the user’s attention and impression of your product and brand. For example, your design, imagery, icons, palette and font choices tell the subconscious what other things should they associate with your brand, both online and in the physical world. Design evokes emotion, and creates authentic brand voice and differentiation. Communicates at so many imperceptible levels. At a glance your design implies your attention to detail, how much has been invested, what the values and priorities of the company are.

Design Drives Milestones, Costs and Timelines

Historically, engineers have been pitted as the enemy of design- they are the ones who push back on optimizing to user experience due to manufacturability, or the required data structure, or processing challenges. If this happens to you, please push back. Market success is first and foremost about the users experience with what they are buying from you- in software it’s called what’s “at the glass”, in housewares it may be “hand feel”.

That said, you want your design priorities to be aligned to business milestones, and to have a clear expectation on the cost and timing to code or build the essential elements. You should also take into account the increase or decrease in cost to support products that need more explanation. On the plus side, good design will drive return users, new users, recognizable platform. A variation on the old maxim to “measure twice and cut once” applies to design and coding, too. We suggest iterating on specifications multiple times, considering a problem from multiple perspectives before writing any code. In an agile development world, this can be frustrating- people want to see live product and real progress- but trust us, you may go slower initially, but your initial working prototypes will be much better, and long run product development will be faster.

Christine Mason
Christine maps new markets for emerging technologies, scouts for strategic expansion opportunities, and guides internal innovation strategies for leading companies.