I have, for a while, been thinking about the value that design adds to a product/ service and how to articulate that value to the decision makers so we, designers, can get a chance to play a bigger role in the development cycle. I have come to realize that there are 2 ways to approach the problem.
1. Designers talking the business language: As designers in the work we do, our processes, our reasoning etc is all quite qualitative and implicit. And this qualitative approach allows us to observe and value individual users, their experiences, their motivations, their ‘a-ha’ moments instead of relying on broad (and boring) statistics alone. This empathy is what drives our creative process.
But this puts us at a disadvantage while dealing with the decision makers because more often than not, they’re more interested in statistics and (to borrow from Roger Martin) reliability. I believe if we have to increase our impact in an organizational environment, we need to be able to articulate the value that we add in a language they are familiar with. This means measuring the impact of our work not just qualitatively, but with numbers and not just stopping at task completion times and error rates but articulating how improving these numbers impacts the bottom-line of the business. How many dollars of revenue did we add? How much did we reduce the support costs by? I dream of a day when we can base our fees on the impact of our work instead of an hourly rate.
2. Exposing the decision makers to our style of work: This is an approach that firms like IDEO and Frog are propounding today. Bring in the managers, the engineers and involve them in our brainstorms, our prototyping. Do not restrict deliverables to just the end design but deliver the insights, the user stories, the personas etc.
Involving them in our processes helps in 2 ways:
a. Demystifies our work: It helps them understand what we do, why we need the extra one week to observe shoppers in the supermarket, why we have all the post-its on the walls and how each of these things adds value to their end product.
b. Improves buy-in on the final solution: If the key decision makers have been involved in conceptualizing the solution we are proposing, they will be much more inclined to go that extra mile to ensure it is executed the way we, together, envisioned it.
I think this is a really exciting time to be a designer because today we are at a point where a lot of people are beginning to look at us for innovation but to achieve that critical mass will take us that much more effort. And we have the responsibility to bring about this change because at the end of the day, we will gain the most out of it.