9 min read
October 30, 2020

Beyond Making It Pretty: How UX Design Impacts Business Decisions


Kenyatta Edmond

The culture is changing in today's companies. Once siloed, stakeholders now work more closely with UX designers, researchers, and engineers to bring products to life. These diverse roles intersect with the user experience. UX teams make design thinking a crucial part of the business's bottom line and growth.

When I first started working in design, user experience design wasn't a thing. There were web designers and graphic designers— but UX wasn't a job title until the late 2000s. Now, UX designers function as a bridge between business needs, product development needs, engineer needs, and the end customer needs. But this discipline is about more than just making products pretty. It's also about delivering value to the people who use that product and negotiating with everyone within the business to craft an experience that customers will want and advocate for.  

For me, the UX role emerged from my experience working with data tools like Google Analytics. This tool gave me insight into how assets designed for the web were performing for the business goals and measure usability satisfaction from target customers. In short, I focused my designs on motivating target customers to convert for the business. Today's UX role is a confluence of functions that relies on user data, market research, psychology, visual design, web design, graphic design, and UI design. UX design aligns the goals, vision, and workflows of different stakeholders to create an experience that meets everyone's needs.

Design thinking should be part of business decision-making from the start because of design's crucial role in uniting these stakeholders and delivering a finished product.

Why Design Matters and Why UX Design Matters More

Design takes something that is essentially abstract and makes it real. Design principles can guide manufacturing a product like a car or designing a survey, or creating an art installation experience.

Today, user experience fits under the design umbrella and is typically associated with the tech space and digital products. Depending on who you ask, UX even can be refined into more specific segments, like customer experience and service experience.

As consumer preferences have evolved, the brand experience and the product experience often join together in the consumer's mind. We don't say tissue; we say Kleenex. We don't say 'go search for it'; we say 'Google it.' We have coffee tribes that will fight and defend their brand of choice simply because of the end-to-end experience. UX design has played an increasingly central role in response to this shift. A poorly designed product experience can sink a brand, whereas a strong product experience can drive revenue growth and brand equity.

“The brand experience and the product experience often join together in the consumer's mind. We don't say tissue; we say Kleenex.”

User-centric design is now so essential to business objectives that scholars have created models to categorize its effectiveness within organizations.

The leading Kreitzberg model defines 6-levels of UX maturity:

  1. UX Unaware - An organization is disengaged from UX design, or UX design is confused with visual design.
  2. Ad Hoc UX - Usually introduced to an organization through an executive that attends a conference or seminar and stirs organizational curiosity.
  3. Project UX - UX design is used strategically, and the organization has created the infrastructure to support it.
  4. Organizational UX - The organization uses UX design principles to develop strategies concerning people and processes.
  5. Strategy UX - UX design is used to plan an organization's future, leading to increased agility and rapid learning.
  6. UX Culture - UX design becomes part of the organization's very fabric and breeds a culture invested in experience - from the company to the customer.

As an organization advances its UX maturity, it can create more impactful user experiences and accelerate adoption. The company becomes increasingly invested in their products' full cycle as user insights provide useful information and help steer decisions. In short, people and their experience become the focus.

Design thinking is a framework built around solving problems for people. To do this, designers follow a non-linear process of empathizing with the user, defining the user's problem, ideating, prototyping, testing. This is then followed by repeating the process until the experience is defined to address various use cases and tasks for the end-user. By deploying design thinking, designers can ensure that end-user needs are considered from the outset. With user-focused designs, teams can reduce time to market, decrease development costs, and increase the adoption rate.  

UX Design for Cloud Services

When it comes to technology investments like cloud services, design principles once again play a role in helping executives analyze their procurement decisions:

  1. They need to empathize with the pain points in their teams' workflows.
  2. They need to define the problem.
  3. They must ideate which type of solution is needed
  4. They must get feedback through prototype tests.
  5. They repeat the process to iterate to an experience that users will adopt.  

Using this framework, leaders can better articulate the need for IT procurements. For example, they may realize the need to drive shared accountability, synchronize workflows, decrease time to market, and boost access to customers' products and services.

“By adopting a cloud solution designed with UX methodologies and principles, teams are empowered to build human-centric products.”

By adopting a cloud solution designed with UX methodologies and principles, teams are empowered to build human-centric products. Cloud dashboards drive a common visual language experience shared between finance, engineers, product managers, and leadership. The dashboard experience will provide visibility across formerly siloed operations. With silos broken down, IT leaders and decision-makers can easily streamline goals to get everyone working towards the same result. They are also better able to correlate investment to actions and results to judge whether they meet the objectives and achieve an ROI.

How UX Design Synergizes Multiple Goals and Efforts

Cloud service development teams who report to a CTO or CIO need to demonstrate that the UX- methodologies and processes are worth the investment. When a human-centered design approach is adopted, the UX team is better positioned to help the development team achieve its goals. UX designers can ensure that business objectives come to life in products that people want, and crucially, products that people will want to use.

Buy-in from senior management is necessary to reap the benefits of UX-focused development and design. Understanding UX, learning its value, and analyzing their organization's UX maturity rate can bring CTOs immeasurable gains. Integrating UX-centric practices is a necessary process, but with the support of leadership, organizations can introduce training and experiments to pave the way for UX methodologies.

To illustrate a human-centered design approach to development, we can look at how technical leaders, UX practitioners, and developers address a common business need.

Let's say leadership wants to reduce the cost incurred from a high volume of technical support calls. Based on the first two design thinking steps, the team needs to empathize with the customer to define the problem. On the technical side, developers can ask themselves:

  1. Is the site indexing in search engines correctly?
  2. Are help queries pulling the correct info from the database?
  3. Is the website's search experience technically optimized?

On the UX side, designers can ask themselves:

  1. Is the site designed to help users quickly find information?
  2. Do solution suggestions automatically follow error messages?
  3. How can self-service be improved to provide information online instead of on calls?

When leadership encourages this type of design-centric approach, there is massive potential for dev teams and UX design teams to work together so that the user experience and the product's functionality meet the same goals.
Dashboard Design With People In Mind

I've always had a bit of a fixation with dashboards. When done right, software dashboards capture data insights for the various overlapping processes contributing to business objectives. They remain a vital tool for companies pursuing user-centric practices. In my opinion, dashboards deserve more credit than they tend to receive - they could even use a revamp.

Because their purpose is to present information, dashboards tend to be cluttered and display more details than one might need. Psychologists William Edmund Hick and Ray Hyman's distraction analysis solidified the need for simplistic displays to make decision-making easier for users. In the context of user experience, too much information can lead to confusion or frustration, and ultimately navigating away from a page.  

By using design thinking, developers and creatives can implement a simplified dashboard designed for human role-based needs. The dashboard should summarize the data points that are important to individual roles within an organization. Activities and actions can then steer users in the right direction for a smooth experience. With advances in AI and machine learning, dashboards can present information in a storytelling model that unifies people's activities and expectations across an organization.

Design that Leads to Decisions

Leaders, engineers, and finance officers have different motivations and decisions to make. Each will look at data through the lens of their roles and objectives. Using UX methodologies in decision-making, leaders gain the ability to bring together different motivations, job functions, and data points that, traditionally, have not been considered side-by-side.

When it comes to cloud transformation, UX designers can create more usable systems that facilitate individuals and teams working in alignment with the same goals.

With cloud-powered transparency and access to information, engineer teams have the opportunity to see their cost contributions to the organization in real-time. Finance managers can then see the input cost to produce with demand, and product managers can track product performance and plan for future features that will go into a product.

With this kind of information on hand, decisions can be made in minutes instead of months, making companies more agile and competitive.

Companies that want to innovate and grow will always face the risk of business disruption and barriers to adoption. I think engaging UX designers and adopting design thinking from the outset builds human-focused products that produce impactful experiences.

Featured Illustration By Jonathan CarringtonJonathan Carrington was born and raised in Baltimore, MD. He's a multi-disciplined creative with a 12-year background in illustration and design. He enjoys escaping to beaches along the east coast, test driving cars, and being a self-proclaimed avid member of the anime community.


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