Design is About Answering Problems, Not Executing “Predefined” Solutions

When I talked to a friend who is now a CTO in a pretty stellar startup in Indonesia, he talked about how designers in their team are currently just “executors” of ideas and do not hold any strategic value. In that case, when hiring one, his idea of design is diminished to only artefact-creating workers, or drafters, in which he could not justify a high salary or compensation package for them.

In other companies I worked for, it is almost similar, although the degree in which how design is valued varies in different companies. I noticed that, regardless of scale, how design is valued in an organisation depends heavily on the culture. It rarely depends on the budget. Even a company with a small budget could invest heavily in design if the stakeholders believe that to achieve good business, they need good design.

The friend also believed that designers should be able to look at things from both business and user’s sides. I have a different perspective. I think we all must agree that a business is there to make money, and every effort is done to finally make money. However, from the user’s perspective, it’s completely different. The people who use the product wants to accomplish something. More so, they want a product they’d love using. If all designers were coming from the perspective of business, they’d focus on the wrong reasons. Designers are in the minds of the users, and we should talk about the user’s success criteria, not the company’s.

Julie Zhuo, the VP of Product Design at Facebook, eloquently put this:

To speak the language of designers, stop talking about metrics and start talking about users.

More often than not, these aren’t too far off from each other. For example, you might be talking about setting a goal of optimizing conversion rate on a registration page by X%. Said another way, what you’re trying to do is to remove the barriers that make it hard for users to sign up for your service. But see, the language here matters. Make it easier for users to sign up vs. Optimize the conversion rate on the sign-up flow. One approach speaks to the value for the end user. The other approach focuses on what the company needs to do to be successful. Designers generally think and operate in the mindset of the user.

Other translations:
Can we increase the click-through rate on this button? => How can we make sure users know about this sweet new feature and that it’s easy to use?
We need to not tank metrics with this change => We need to make sure this change doesn’t make it harder for users to do the things they want to do.
Let’s pump up the viral coefficient => Let’s encourage users who like and enjoy this feature to share it with their friends.”

In this sense, designers do actually care about business, but they do it from the perspectives of the people who will use the product.

So again, I think, design should be seen as an integrated part of the business. A good design can potentially achieve good business. It helps achieve the key performance indicators (KPI) of other teams.

The better process is to involve designers in every product or feature ideation process, through several methods that are available right now. It can be a simple breakout & thinking session, a lengthier design sprint, a more in-the-field user interview, or a design “hackathon” over a day where we all try to prototype a new thing. In my opinion, the business side should still come from the business KPIs, but rather than providing the solutions upfront to the designers, come up with problems.

Let the designers analyse that problem and formulate their solutions.

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Reflections on digital product design, travel, food and the in-betweens. Finding my compass.

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