There’s been a lot of talk in “design thinking” circles about how the practice of design needs to do more to inform business. You won’t get any disagreement from me.
But I haven’t seen a lot of talk of this being a two-way street. We seem to think business folks should appreciate the value that design brings, but we don’t expect designers to appreciate the value that business brings.
Something we’re trying at Adaptive Path is to use explicit business value metrics to brainstorm design ideas. It starts with what we call the linking elephants. The elephants first appeared in our report Leveraging Business Value: How ROI Changes User Experience. Diagrammatically, the elephants look like this:
And an example of our work from PeopleSoft shows that they would be applied like this:
Businesses typically know what their problems/challenges/opportunities are (the box on the far left) and what kinds of things have value (the fourth box). What the linking elephants demonstrate is that businesses can achieve that value by encouraging desired behaviors.
And it is those desired behaviors where designers step in. Designers can build systems that encourage behaviors. In doing so, we can lead to business results. This is how we make clear that we are not simply a cost, but an investment.
Typically when we think of ROI and design, we think of how we can validate design decisions with an ROI case. What we’re talking about here is *informing* design decisions with an ROI case. It’s a subtle difference, but a powerful one.
What it means to me is that we’re not just proving, after the fact, the value of what we designed. What this approach means to me is that we’re doing better design work in the first place. It helps us prioritize just what design endeavors are most worth pursuing, and it gives us a clear path for understanding the success of our design work.
We’re starting to use the linking elephants as a brainstorming methods, coming up desired behaviors that tie together business problems and value metrics.
We’re already seeing that it’s not only shaping the direction of our work, it’s getting us tremendous buy-in from stakeholders in the organization (particularly finance people) who might not understand what design does beyond make some thing pretty. A process like this lets the strategists and financial types into the design discussion in a way that a) makes sense to them, while b) enlightening them about design’s role.
I’d be curious to hear if others are working on tying design work so explicitly to a financial outcome, and what has and has not worked.