This edition included an important reflection on the need for designers to prioritise their relationship with business over sharpening craft in order to improve the influence we've worked so hard to achieve. We also explored the ROI of content design, how we could rethink growth as the business success status quo, and how radical economic models could help us shift from systems which polarise to ones which enable positive, collaborative relationships.
2021's issue introduced a fresh look and some new content. We took a deep dive into the Circular Economy, explained the difference between CAPEX and OPEX spending, looked at report on the state of design in 2021, and listened to how you can you become business-savvy without compromising design values.
The final issue of 2020 reminded us of some key business fundamentals, introduced the world of positioning, and shared content on how to get business value from the Design Sprint. If you're new to Growth Design, we looked at a great talk covering this increasingly popular discipline. Finally, we wrapped 2020 by looking at how Salesforce make ethical business decisions while revealing the enormous business opportunity available to companies with ethics at their core
This issue we covered Customer Lifetime Value (CLV), The Business Model Canvas, and practical ways to level up your design communication. In future thinking, this edition looked at emerging content business models from China and how Capitalism can be reimagined for the good of the planet.
In September we demystified strategy and Customer Acquisition Cost, and introduced the Kano Model for business analysis. For building influence of design we shared a generous essay from a designer at Google and a candid talk from UX London. Finally, we looked at the future of startups, reading the sage words of two veterans concerned by tech's overwhelming focus on growth and disruption.
A SaaS-focused issue, taking a closer look at subscription business models and how businesses of all types can move towards this flexible model. We touched on the Circular Economy, and shared great resources for building influence as content designers and leadership change-makers. This issue features another practical framework for showing the ROI of design, and featured wise words on what it takes to run your own design business.
The first edition of Designers in Business included opinion on how designers can gain more influence at executive level, introduced Porter's Five Forces, shared tools for measuring the ROI of design, and how Path Dependence could be stifling innovation in your industry.
I really enjoyed Satyam's personal reflections on his journey as a designer connecting the dots with business. In this talk as part of Google's 'Design Is' series, he introduces concepts such as design premium and impact ratios that have helped him improve his relationship with business colleagues.
The latest episode of the d.MBA podcast really resonated with me as someone who is looking to find the right balance between the focus on business and design in my work and approach.
Alen neatly frames the tension of this dilemma - “The value system of the design community prevents us from fully embracing business. We are afraid. Won’t business knowledge lead me to compromise my principles?”
Both CAPEX (Capital Expenditure) and OPEX (Operational Expenditure) categorise the money a business spends on the things it needs to operate.
CAPEX expenses are incurred to create long term profit. These are typically big purchases - things like machinery or the outright purchase a building or vehicle would be classed as CAPEX spend.
OPEX expense is the spending required to keep a business running day to day. Things like salary, energy bills, leased equipment and cloud computing subscriptions are Operational Expenditure. OPEX tend to make up the majority of an organisation's outgoing costs.
Business Wars isn’t your typical business podcast. Instead of the usual interview format, David Brown brings the key players to life by dramatising the story of some famous rivalries. It’s a compelling listen and an engaging way to hear some fascinating business tales.
Tech rivalries are covered (Uber vs Lyft for example), but if you fancy a break from digital, I particularly enjoyed the series about two famous outdoor brands - The North Face and Patagonia.
Last year Salesforce hired its first resident ethicist, Paula Goldman. As Chief Ethical and Humane Use Officer, Paula is responsible for ensuring Salesforce products are developed with ethics in mind and that unintended consequences are discovered before they cause harm.
Saleforces share the background to their Ethical and Humane Use mission online. A standout infographic (PDF) from the portal summarises research which could help convince other business leaders to follow suit; the enormous business opportunity available to companies with ethics at their core.
Designers are regularly advised to talk and think more like our business counterparts if we want to have greater impact. I’ve shared plenty of content echoing this very sentiment.
So it’s refreshing to hear Nathan Shedroff argue that business leaders would also benefit from upskilling in a design superpower; our comfort with ambiguity.
The more I hear about the role of Growth Designer, the more I relate to it. Lex Roman shares a definition of the discipline in her post Calling all Growth Designers:
“A person who approaches product design through the dual lens of customer experience and business impact.”
In this fantastic talk from Clearleft’s SofaConf, Lex shares 4 key skills that can help designers level-up their ability to deliver both customer and business value.
Armed with better ways to connect our work to business goals, Lex believes we can have greater influence on more strategic decisions by demonstrating the impact of our work more effectively.
I’m currently deep in the world of paywalls, exploring them for a client who is looking to improve the conversion performance of their current paywall design.
Background research led me to this article from Smartocto, a Dutch agency specialising in content strategy and related business models.
It’s a long but well written guide covering paywall types, benefits, triggers, and how to measure their success. One to bookmark if you’re looking to get ahead with an approach growing in popularity while advertising revenue models continue to lose their lustre.
Used appropriately, Design Sprints offer businesses great bang for their buck. An accessible way to introduce the benefits of Design Thinking, they’re used to de-risk investment in potentially lucrative ideas.
But getting signoff for a Design Sprint can be a challenge; they’re an expensive commitment. In this article, Nathan Kinch suggests ways to get business value from a Sprint, approaches that could help you build a compelling case to get stakeholders on board.
New to Design Sprints? Try the last edition of the Clearleft podcast as an introduction, an episode it was a pleasure to be one of the guests on.
Positioning is a regularly misunderstood business marketing term. I’ve often struggled to clearly grasp the concept, confusing it with another fuzzy term: value proposition.
April Dunford is an leader in positioning and describes it like the opening scene of a movie - answering the big questions: Where are we? What year is this? What’s happening? Who are these people?
“Once we have established some context, we can settle in and pay attention to the story.”
Whether commercial, charity, or public sector, organisations typically look to reduce risk wherever possible. Big bets that pay off can be game changers, but getting it wrong can cost customers, revenue, and jobs.
Hypothesis-driven design helps reduce this risk by testing assumptions early and often. If you’re a designer new to this experimental approach, Sylvia Lai has you covered with this practical primer.
As designers it’s natural to position product towards the centre of our business universe.
In this quickfire edit of a longer interview, Marcus Whitney reminds us just how many other concepts are important for business success.
His top priorities? Leadership, Finance, and Operations.
Modern capitalism takes justifiable criticism for its part in the uneven distribution of wealth, and its focus on shareholder value over the health of stakeholders and the climate.
In this excellent episode of the After Hours podcast, Rebecca Henderson argues that a reimagining of capitalism is the only realistic and pragmatic way to tackle these issues, particularly climate change.
By reviving its original values (unrecognisable compared with modern practice) and banning or heavily penalising unsustainable outcomes, Rebecca believes the focus of business leaders will shift toward better outcomes for the planet.
The Business Model Canvas is a simple tool to “clearly understand customers, create better products, and grow businesses”.
It’s a great way to structure how you learn about customer segments, revenue streams, value proposition and more.
Provocative in its title, this article goes on to deliver a compelling take on the importance of establishing a sustainable business model ahead of design investment for any new venture.
Al argues that we should design backwards from viability because “economic profit is a boundary condition – a hurdle that must be met. Simply, if the economics don’t work, nothing works”.
Thank you to Patrick Sansom for suggesting this article for inclusion.
It’s packed with sage advice for making our work more tangible and accessible to other disciplines.
As Aaron puts it, “if the work’s not visible, it can’t be understood. And if the work’s not understood, it can’t be valued.”
When it comes to exploring CLV, who do you think your ideal customers are? The ones whose purchases generate the most profit per transaction?
According to Lia Heaivilin, it’s usually the customers who most closely align with a business’s core values and mission, rather than those with the highest profitability.
According to Mailchimp, CLV is “more than just a simple exchange of goods for money, CLV is a measurement of how valuable a customer is to your business over time”.
Mailchimp do a great job of articulating the reasons CLV deserves attention, while also highlighting its pitfalls and common mistakes to have on your radar.
Ever been frustrated when designing for - or attempting to use - digital products which rely heavily on advertising revenue?
As they gain wider traction, these emerging models could spell good news for designers and consumers in other markets too.
Not only do these new business models present challenges and opportunities for designers, they offer flexible and clutter-free ways for consumers to enjoy content.
As an educator, author, and speaker, Douglas is empowering designers to cultivate the business side of their brain while maintaining their creative instincts.
In this interview with Eugeniu Esanu, Douglas shares his fascinating journey into design before diving into practical and compelling ways “we can be strategic partners who grow businesses and move needles”.
Growth has been the metric of startup success for some time. Obsession with size and disruption has reshaped the modern business world, but often appears to negate the long-term thinking which allowed so many businesses to endure in the pre-tech era.
In this excellent HBR piece, Hemant Taneja and veteran businessman Ken Chenault reflect on the need for startups to demonstrate their ability to execute second and third acts that look beyond growth and profitability alone.
Citing research conducted into successful companies who had endured for 50 years or more, they note that organisations with “society-first principles, adaptable long-term strategies, and scalable leadership” were the visionary businesses who stood the test of time.
If you’re looking for a simple to grasp framework for conducting business analysis (perhaps for the first time), I’m a personal fan of the Kano Model. It’s particularly well aligned for those with a user-focused mindset, using customer satisfaction for its mapping categories.
There are a plethora of Kano Model explainers out there, but I come back to this enthusiastic talk by Jared Spool time after time.
UX, content and digital product design are still relatively new fields compared to established business functions.
Design is finding its place while the discipline grows rapidly. We’re still maturing, establishing our processes and language. This can bring with it frustrations about how quickly our colleagues understand what we do and the value it can bring.
In this candid talk, Paul Adams tackles the frustration head on, sharing some uncomfortable truths about how design can alienate those we need to build better relationships with.
We’ve covered ways to calculate the ROI (Return On Investment) of design work in this newsletter before. In this piece from Nielsen Norman Group, Kate Moran warns that many design teams overthink these ROI calculations and should be treating them as estimates rather than sophisticated financial forecasts.
Designers are often told we need to think more strategically to be taken seriously in the business world. But, what is strategy anyway?
In this evergreen article from 2017, content strategist Kristina Halvorson does a fantastic job of demystifying strategy in the context of business planning.
It can be hard to know where to start with building your influence as a designer in large organisations. In this fantastic essay, Hardik Pandya breaks down the various practical steps he’s taken to build leverage during his career.
This generous collection is a must-read for anyone looking to demonstrate their value as a designer in pursuit of greater influence and trust.
The title of this inspiring little book from Alex Hillman is deceiving. As the book’s forward says, this collection of business wisdoms is more of an anti-MBA (Master of Business Administration).
Alex ditches the usual models and frameworks in favour of a series of thought-provoking quotes, questions, and propositions about how we start, fund, run and market businesses built for the long term.
I’m a fan of bite-sized books when first starting to learn about a subject. Tiny MBA only takes a few hours to read, but you’ll feel like you spent that time with a friendly business mentor.
Practical frameworks for demonstrating the value of design are becoming a frequent (and popular) feature of these newsletters. This month is no different, with an excellent piece from the talented Lauren Pope on how to write a value proposition for content.
Lauren believes a value proposition for content is particularly useful if “other teams don’t ‘get’ content”, or “senior stakeholders can’t see the value”. Familiar challenges regardless of your design discipline.
Customer Acquisition Cost or CAC is one of the most important metrics for a business to track. CAC is a calculation of the financial resources needed for a company to attract new customers and retain existing ones.
In this detailed breakdown from Hubspot, Sophia Bernazzani covers what CAC is, how to calculate it, and how investment in the right areas can reduce the cost of bringing new customers to your service or product.
Discussing his experience gaining the business skills needed to succeed as a design contractor, Jared covers important considerations for those running a freelance consultancy: marketing, time management, and pricing strategy.
Divided into four quadrants - saving money, making money, direct impact and indirect impact - this canvas helps map the business areas where design can maximise its value.
The article opens with examples of familiar (and often frustrating) conversations between design teams and their wider business. These set the scene nicely, starting with a common challenge for teams of scale - justifying the cost to build your first design system.
Helping designers have more business influence is one of the aims of this newsletter. But what if becoming more business-centric begins to cloud our judgement as designers?
In this critical look at the impact of Silicon Valley business models on user-centred design, Jesse‘s warns that “bad things happen as we stop solving people problems and start solving business problems”.
The competitive advantage of design is being realised by more businesses than ever. Design leaders are finding executive presence a realistic prospect. But having a seat at the table is only the start of the challenge for designers in many large organisations.
Maria explains how she found success through executive sponsorship, aligning design work to business goals, and making her team’s work visible beyond the design studio.
Here's a fantastic guide for anyone looking to communicate the business case for great content design. Whether you need to explain the discipline’s roles to non-designers or break down how content design can generate or save money, this brilliantly curated guide from Content Design London has you covered.
In this article, Intercom’s co-founder breaks down how businesses can establish their revenue model from three pricing strategies: transactional, enterprise and self-service.
Subscription business models link into a wider concept we’ll explore more deeply in future newsletters, called the Circular Economy.
According to the Ellen McCather Foundation, “a circular economy is based on the principles of designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems”.
As designers we’ll have a crucial role to play in circular economies, designing the systems to manage requests, returns, and servicing throughout the extended lifecycle of a leased product.
When we discuss subscription models, it’s common to think in terms of software and digital services. But it’s not just digital-native businesses that are moving in this direction - physical products and in-person services are exploring these business models too.
This excellent interview with subscription business expert Robbie Kellman Baxter (author of The Forever Transaction) explores how even the most traditional of businesses can transition to a recurring payment model.
A poster-child for SaaS success, Stripe is a global payments gateway used by millions of businesses worldwide.
Stripe’s long-read guide to the business of SaaS is an excellent primer. It outlines the core business concepts, pricing options, and demystifies important SaaS business metrics.
It also covers an important strategy decision; whether to run a low-touch or high-touch sales model. This decision has big implications for design teams responsible for product marketing and on-boarding experiences.
Ever been frustrated by a perceived lack of innovation in your organisation? Surprised that your industry hasn’t experienced the kind of tech disruption seen in other domains? You could be feeling the effects of something called Path Dependence.
Decisions made decades or even centuries ago have created deeply embedded systems or standards which are extremely difficult (and expensive) to move away from.
As Max put it in his article, “depending on what industry you’re sitting in, upending your competitors often requires a whole lot more than you’d imagine”.
Sales doesn’t always come naturally to designers. As a freelance designer this is something I’ve had to become more comfortable with over the years.
Insightful interviews like this one with Dan Mall help demystify a powerful sales strategy - value pricing.
In this candid talk for Designer Fund, Kim Bost (Dropbox’s Principal Product Designer at the time of filming) shares 3 common mistakes when setting goals for evaluating the potential revenue impact of design experiments.
Alen tackles a common bias which can get in the way of our ability to demonstrate the return on design investment; the habit of designers explaining the benefits of their work largely through a qualitative lens.
Through a 3-step process, Alen’s methodology for estimating the ROI of design looks to “translate design’s impact through numbers, metrics, and strategic arguments“. Excellent advice articulated through very relatable examples.
Like any framework, Five Forces has its pitfalls if poorly applied. The world of business has changed since this technique’s inception in 1979, with 21st century companies often straddling multiple industries. This complicates Five Forces assessments, making them more arduous to complete and potentially less reliable.
According to Investopedia, “Expanding the intake for the model to consider all the different competitive environments around the world makes the analysis more cumbersome for the return”.
This breakdown of the framework’s potential blindspots is a must-read before diving into your own Five Forces analysis.
Of all the Five Forces breakdowns I reviewed, I found Lucidchart‘s the most digestible introduction.
Their article details relatable examples alongside each Force, and suggests a number of familiar design processes (such as empathy and customer journey mapping) as routes towards a Five Forces assessment.
I’d not heard of nemawashi (a Japanese approach to consensus building) before researching for this newsletter. The concept caught my eye in a broad article discussing how designers can better communicate with executives.
After digging further I found Erin’s article to be a particularly insightful take on the subject.
Erin shares how the Japanese system of nemawashi can be one of the most productive ways to push our ideas forward. It can work effectively because “we are building consensus openly, not forcing consensus”.
Nemawashi could be an approach worth considering when it comes to building better relationships between designers and business colleagues. Erin’s article helpfully concludes with a Q&A, covering off common enquiries about the process.
Kate discusses how designers - in contrast to other specialisms - often have too narrow a focus on their own area of practice. Kate advises that that in the meeting context we can be more effective when we talk about design and “put it through the lens of what the business is trying to accomplish”.