Designers and other creatives can be resistant to traditional quantitative metrics. Well-worn adages like “You can't rush creativity” may have a kernel of truth to them, but they also perpetuate the idea that the creative process is a mysterious, subjective kind of magic.
Unfortunately, if your work is subjective, then so is the value of your work.
The supposedly intangible nature of design work means that designers aren't always offered a seat at the managerial table. It's also the main reason why designers are often the most-overlooked staffing role on many product development teams. Despite this, design remains critically important to the success and growth of many products.
So how do you prove the value of design?
Before you can define what successful design looks like, you have to define what success actually means. Most companies set goals, but if you don't truly understand those goals, meeting (or exceeding) them will be almost impossible.
If you're a UX designer or product manager just getting started with data, here are three ways to demonstrate the value of design and make your work more valuable to your team and your organization.
Defining a Designer's Impact on a Business
The first thing you should do to begin calculating your value to your company or team is figure out the individual goals that you can directly impact and quantify. For example, if your department's goal is to increase revenue by 20%, then your team's contribution to that goal might be to increase sales by 10%.
Whichever metrics, goals, or objectives you choose to focus on, it's vital that you understand how and where this target is being measured and how you are affecting that target personally.
Delving Deeper into Processes
Once you've identified a clearly defined objective, it's time to delve a little deeper into the processes surrounding that goal. This means investigating who does what, which means asking questions—lots of questions:
- How are sales looking right now?
- How are we measuring sales activity?
- Where are we measuring and recording that activity?
- Who's in charge of this?
- What's preventing people from buying?
- What are the most common mistakes people make when buying?
- What kinds of people are buying?
- How fast are people buying?
- What makes people more likely to complete a purchase?
The answers to all of the above questions are right there within your company—all you have to do is figure out who to ask. Talk to your teammates and co-workers. Sit in on meetings. Ask department heads how they calculate and use the metrics that are most important to their teams.
Once you've figured out how and where a goal is being tracked, the next step is to establish a regularly scheduled progress report, so everybody knows exactly what's happening. This could take the form of an informal team conversation, a regular stand-up, or a dedicated meeting. Alternatively, you could send out an email blast, update your team's Slack channel, or whatever else works for you and your team.
The important thing isn't how or where the report is prepared or published—it's that everybody knows what's going on.
However you choose to structure your reports, be sure to highlight how tangible developments from the design team align with progress toward those business objectives you identified earlier. Ideally, these progress reports should be a cross-departmental endeavor. It should include progress and product updates from not only the Design team, but Product, Engineering, and maybe even Sales and Customer Success, too. The more complete a picture you can paint in your reports, the easier it'll be to identify how and where design is making a tangible impact on your team's goals.
Understanding What Makes Customers Tick
Better products mean happier customers—at least in theory. What really drives business growth, however, is a solid understanding of your core users and most loyal customers. The better you know your customers, the better you can take care of them.
However, while we might think we know what our customers want, that doesn't necessarily make it so. If you've ever conducted usability testing or comprehensive user research, you'll know that there's often a vast gulf between how we think our users perceive and use our products versus what they actually think and how they really use them.
User research is one of the most insightful, revealing, and impactful ways to approach design and product development. Designers are typically closely involved in the qualitative side of user research, but evaluating quantitative analytics through the lens of design can be incredibly valuable.
Examining Real Customer Journeys
When it comes to creating your progress reports, user journey maps can be very revealing. Specifically, you should be looking for points at which users fail to accomplish a specific task or certain action.
Go back to your list of questions. Don't just ask where you're losing customers—ask what they go on to do instead of completing a transaction. Where do users go after they fail to complete these actions? How do they get there? How do they feel?
Conducting User Interviews
User journey maps are just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to seeing how your users really interact with your products. Conducting user interviews in concert with journey mapping can highlight details and experiences that even the most intricate, detailed journey maps cannot, making it an invaluable part of your design research workflow.
When conducting user interviews, it's important to be as “human” as possible. Remember—your users are people with thoughts and feelings, not just data points that prove your worth as a designer!
Validating Design Decisions
By this point, you've probably unearthed a great deal of useful, actionable information. You've identified your primary performance metrics, discovered areas in which you can make concrete design improvements through user research, and have started to think about how you and your team can make even more gains.
Now it's time to start validating your design decisions.
Every decision, regardless of its impact, carries a degree of risk. The real question is how to mitigate as much risk as possible and how to prove the potential value of a design feature or choice. For example, let's say your user research has helped you identify a potential new design for a crucially important sales or product page. How will you validate the decision to redesign such an important element? How can you conclusively prove that redesigning this asset will contribute to your team's goals?
Tracking Progress Alongside Product Releases
As you release updates to your product, be sure to create and publish reports that track the impact of these updates. Start with your key metric—the one your team is focusing on—and build custom views around those behaviors. Ideally, you'll be iterating on core updates on a regular basis, so you'll have more data to work with.
Something to consider is who will be responsible for tracking the impact of these releases and updates. If you're not on the hook for your team's reports, be sure you know who is, as you'll likely need to liaise with this individual regularly.
Analyze, Rinse, Repeat
Every product update, release, or patch is an invaluable learning opportunity. After every major product update, refer back to your original hypotheses. Did an update have the impact you thought it would have? Did customer behavior have an effect on your primary metric? Ensure that you're documenting the impact of these changes, even if the results aren't what you expected to see, and share this information as part of your reporting workflow.
The Devil's in the Data
Every designer should be able to conclusively demonstrate their worth to their managerial team. If we can't, our value to our organizations is completely dependent on how others perceive the work we do.
Working with data sets might not be the most intuitive process for the visually minded, but possessing a strong grasp of how design work has a tangible impact on real business goals can help you prove your worth to your team or company. The more clearly you can demonstrate the impact of your design work, the more likely it is that you'll be included in higher-level strategic decision-making.