Business Value

The Business Value of Design

Measuring the impact of User Centred Design (UCD) and Design in general has been for a long time a hot topic in our community.

When I started doing UCD in the early 2000s our discipline was still in its infancy. Most of the investments in digital were about marketing or branding. There were only a few digital products that we could consider mature. We often had to go and justify the investment on an end-to-end design process that would take into account users’ needs and goals, rapidly iterate design solution and learn from the insights gained.

My clients would often ask:

  • What is usability?
  • What is the value to my business?
  • How do you measure it?
  • What is the Return on Investment (ROI)?

Design as a differentiator

After 2008/9, the business value of design has almost been given for granted.

I believe the launch of the iPhone was the watershed moment for many of us. Smartphones and other personal digital devices became a huge part of our everyday lives. The importance of a well crafted user experience became much more tangible. Our clients started to be aware of the importance of Design as a differentiator. Apple, Google, Amazon and other major companies went on to lead their industries based on their ability to stand out from the rest of their competitors.

I recently came across a piece of research from McKinsey that further demonstrates and measures the impact of Design on business metrics.

The McKinsey Design Index (MDI)

McKinsey recently tracked the design practices of 300 publicly listed companies over a five-year period in multiple countries and industries (medical technology, consumer goods, and retail banking), and measured the correlation with their financial performance.

Their analysis shows that top-quartile MDI scorers increased their revenues and total returns to shareholders (TRS) substantially faster than their industry counterparts did over a five-year period — 32 percentage points higher revenue growth and 56 percentage points higher TRS growth for the period as a whole.

Source: The Business Value of Design (McKinsey)

The diagram below shows that the top quartile annual growth is 10%, while the industry’s benchmark value ranges from 3 to 6%. Same goes for TSR (21% vs. 12–16%).

The Four Enablers of Business Value

Business leaders were asked what their greatest strengths and weaknesses were. Based on their answers, McKinsey identified four themes:

  1. Measure the change in customer behaviour and its impact on the business metrics
  2. Nurture your top design talent and empower them in cross-functional teams that take collective accountability for improving the user experience
  3. Focus on the total user experience of your service/product, not just the physical or digital part of it
  4. Iterate, test and learn rapidly, incorporating user insights from the first idea until long after the final launch.

These four themes are effectively the enablers of design excellence at the organisational level.

Source: The Business Value of Design (McKinsey)

The ROI of Usability

Despite all the buzz that the McKinsey research got on the social media, it was not the first attempt of measuring the business value of Design.

People would often talk about ROI and find effective ways of calculating the value of adopting a user centred design process for a new product or service.

For example:

  1. Errors
  2. Cost of development and Maintenance
  3. Productivity.

Interestingly, I think these early frameworks for calculating the ROI of Design are still valid today. The only differences are:

  • The evolution from waterfall to agile & lean development methodologies. This has made the whole idea of rapid iteration & cross-functional teams more acceptable and understood across all the industries
  • The shift from ‘Usability‘ to ‘Design‘ to better reflect the evolution to a holistic design perspective embracing the visceral, behavioural, and reflective dimensions of the user experience.

More on the Business Value of Design

Why are we still arguing for the business value of design? (Quartz)

Design Value (Design Management Institute)

The Design Economy (Design Council)

Design in Tech Report (John Maeda)

Get in touch

Would you like to discuss:

  • How you can measure the ROI of Design for your product or services?
  • How to help your design team to achieve excellence in all of the above areas?

Feel free to get in touch for a chat!

(Cover photo by PhotoMIX Ltd. from Pexels)

Mobile UX Service Design

What is Service Design?

In our field, we often tend to hear the phrase Service Design. Service Design is basically applying holistic user-centred design methods and processes to on- and off-line services. The Design Council has put together a good introduction to the field.

“A service is something that I use but do not own […] Service design is therefore the shaping of service experiences so that they really work for people. Removing the lumps and bumps that make them frustrating, and then adding some magic to make them compelling.”

[vimeo 131860129 w=640 h=360]
In my personal experience, Service Design is often triggered by the opportunity of providing a better customer experience at a better cost by using mobile, digital technology. In the last 7 years, most of the opportunities of innovation in service design are coming from the mass adoption of internet-enabled, touch-friendly smartphones.

However, my interest does not stop with Smartphones. Often, working on a Service Design project is an opportunity of tackling the design problem from a holistic perspective, looking at the experience through different touchpoints, such as email, post, retail points, customer service and so on.

Customer Journey Maps, for example, are a great tool for documenting existing customer experience, and show how customers shift through different touchpoints to reach their goals. Customer Journey Maps strongly resemble user flows/journeys, with the exception that the design needs to represent multiple channels, in a swim lane fashion.
customer journey map
Source: Service Design Tools

Ethnographic research methods can be required to fully understand the context of use. In my experience, ethnographic research projects are really good at getting under the skin of a product or service. It’s a great way of stepping outside our comfort zone and put ourselves in the shoes of the customers.

If you are a designer and you are interested in getting to grips with the methods and techniques of Service Design, I would recommend this book:

This is Service Design Thinking
(BUY on

This little video introduction hints about what the book covers
[vimeo 20527888 w=640 h=360] This is Service Design Thinking – Book Trailer from Captain Motion on Vimeo.

Other useful Service Design resources

Service Design Tools

Service Design Network

HCI Human Factors

Aviation, Human Factors, Automation and Modes

As a design community, we tend to forget how User Centred Design is not only employed in building customer-facing experiences. UCD and Human Factors are also used to design plane cockpits, submarine and nuclear power plant C&C rooms. The latest episode of 99pi does a great job of explaining why designing for automation can mean the difference between life and death.
Human Factors have a long history in Aviation. The first Human Factor studies were carried out during WWII, and focused on incidents related to human error and such. With the advent of automation, one of the key roles of Human Factors has always been to design automation in such a way that human lives would not be in danger, or at least reducing the risk of that happening.

I was lucky enough to work tangentially to Human Factor design professionals for a few years at Thales, and look at decision support system, naturalistic decision making, Abstraction hierarchies and all that sort of things.

With automation playing an increasing role in a number of areas, think of self driving cars, what can history teach us in designing such interactive systems? Automation can be a double-edged scimitar; when it works it’s great, but when it fails it leaves the pilot with a serious lack of hands-on experience in flying the plane.

Automation can prevent mistakes caused by inattention, fatigue, and other human shortcomings, and free people to think about big-picture issues and, therefore, make better strategic decisions. Yet, as automation has increased, human error has not gone away: it remains the leading cause of aviation accidents.

From a New Yorker article: The Hazards of Going on Autopilot

The more a procedure is automated, and the more comfortable we become with it, the less conscious attention we feel we need to pay it. In Schooler’s work on insight and attention, he uses rote, automated tasks to induce the best mind-wandering state in his subjects. If anyone needs to remain vigilant, it’s an airline pilot. Instead, the cockpit is becoming the experimental ideal of the environment most likely to cause you to drift off.

In the cockpit, as automated systems have become more reliable, and as pilots have grown accustomed to their reliability—this is particularly the case for younger pilots, who have not only trained with those systems from the outset of their careers but grown up in a world filled with computers and automation—they have almost inevitably begun to abdicate responsibility on some deeper level.”

Enjoy the 99pi podcast, ‘Children of the Magenta

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Product Design

We Don’t Need More Designers Who Can Code

A great excerpt from the Article “We Don’t Need More Designers Who Can Code“, by Jesse Weaver

“Saying designers should code creates a sense that we should all be pushing commits to production environments. Or that design teams and development teams are somehow destined to merge into one team of superhuman, full-stack internet monsters.

Let’s get real here. Design and development (both front end and back end) are highly specialized professions. Each takes years and countless hours to master. To expect that someone is going to become an expert in more than one is foolhardy.

Here’s what we really need: designers who can design the hell out of things and developers who can develop the hell out of things. And we need them all to work together seamlessly.

This requires one key element: EMPATHY.

What we should be saying is that we need more designers who know about code.

The reason designers should know about code, is the same reason developers should know about design. Not to become designers, but to empathize with them. To be able to speak their language, and to understand design considerations and thought processes. To know just enough to be dangerous, as they say.

This is the sort of thing that breaks down silos, opens up conversations and leads to great work. But the key is that it also does not impede the ability of people to become true experts in their area of focus.

When someone says they want “designers who can code”, what I hear them saying is that they want a Swiss Army knife. The screwdriver, scissors, knife, toothpick and saw. The problem is that a Swiss Army knife doesn’t do anything particularly well. You aren’t going to see a carpenter driving screws with that little nub of a screwdriver, or a seamstress using those tiny scissors to cut fabric. The Swiss Army knife has tools that work on the most basic level, but they would never be considered replacements for the real thing. Worse still, because it tries to do so much, it’s not even that great at being a knife”.

ALL Product Design

The first secret of design is … noticing!

I just finished watching this great talk from Tony Fadell, at TED this year. Tony is the Lead Product designer of the iPod and of the NEST Thermostat. This talk is thoroughly enjoyable and it does a great job of getting a simple  message across: why is Product Design and UX so important today?

Tony takes us through his design principles in the typical 18-minutes TED format. He does it with great passion and emotional intelligence. What is Habituation? Why do we get annoyed at problems and then stop caring? Why is it so important to notice the tiniest details? Why sometimes the solution involves taking a step back and looking at the problem together, as a whole? Why do we need to think like young people to get a fresh perspective?
It is great to see how Tony can deliver this message with superb simplicity and clarity.


Let your users wait…

A good article by Tal Mishali on UX MAG about wait time: communicating progress in UI Design.

When an action we perform happens faster than we would expect it to, we may not appreciate the effort put into it. In more extreme cases we may think that if it happened too fast, maybe it didn’t happen at all.

Full article here:

I always find interesting to design aspects of software where it is necessary to communicate progress and provide feedback when the action is accomplished. This is a typical application of ‘microinteractions’, where small design details like a well design progress indicator can provide surprise and delight.
Well designed microinteractions can go a long way in making your service stand out from your competitors.


Mobile stats – worldwide

Mobile stats - Worldwide
It’s a real shame this report from WURFL does not include either historic trends or desktop figures to see the proportion between desktop and mobile traffic. Still useful though.

Source: Mobile Overview Report January – March 2015

Mobile UX

The Mistery Meat of Mobile Navigation

I wouldn’t know what to choose from: Hamburger or Kebab for your mobile navigation?

Jokes aside, it is sad to see the hamburger and its poor cousin the kebab are frequently used not only for mobile, but even in desktop and tablet layouts. It’s a lazy design choice and it does not make your website easier to use, rather the opposite. Evidence suggest that a ‘menu’ button is 20% more clicked than a hamburger button. On tablet, there is often space for standard top navigation.

HCI Mobile UX Speech Interaction

Do Androids dream in Verse?

a great article from Joscelin Cooper, former UX Writer at Google :

As technology becomes more pervasive and gains access to greater amounts of our personal data, how can we design successful human-machine conversations? Should user interface text approximate the lilt, flow, and syntax of human speech? Or does humanizing UI conversations create a false intimacy that distances even as it attempts to foster familiarity?

The answer, of course, is that it depends. Most of us have encountered voice-automated customer service systems. Some of them, in an effort to make their robot customer reps less droid-like, feature voices that try to approximate human diction. A calm, often female voice pauses, suggests brightly, bridges her prompts with almost-ums. Her attempts at realness further underscore the fact that she is fake, blocking you from an actual human encounter.

A computer that cheerfully calls you by your first name can either delight you or creep you out, depending on the circumstances. Just as robots enter the uncanny valley when they seem too human, a user interface that’s too familiar can push people away. The copy needs to strike the right balance.

Read the remainder of the article on A List Apart

Mobile UX Work

The last 18 months at Canonical

It has been a month since I left Canonical, so it is time to sum up what we achieved. I have been working for 18 months in the Ubuntu mothership, and oh boy they have been very hectic. 2014 has been a great year for me and the Apps team. We accelerated the evolution of touch friendly apps: Browser, Weather, Clock, Calculator, the whole communication suite (Dialler, Contacts, Messaging). By the end of the year 2014, we had a mature set of app design and their implementation was on its way. It was a real privilege to be able to work with such a big pool of talent. I am particularly proud of the gestural interaction, which makes use of all the 4 edges of the screen, and provides ranged gestures progressively revealing information and functionality. At Ubuntu, we coined the formula Hint-Reveal-Commit-Select to identify the 4  stages of gestural interaction.

Ranged gestures

The Ubuntu Phone has a sophisticated motion design language, which makes every transition meaningful and delightful in a subtle way. Just check the video below.

Moreover, when I left me and Jouni had just completed a strong set of design patterns for tablet and convergent desktop. It was incredible interesting to define an interaction design language spanning across multiple form factors and input styles. I think Ubuntu has been at the forefront in exploring a brave new world of convergent design, going beyond touch-friendly and pointer-centric interfaces. Does it really make sense to optimise for one input style or the other? We have been building for future hardware, not for the present. In 5 years time, tablets and laptops are likely to be the same device. The user will frequently move between touch, keyboard and pointer devices and she will have little or no tolerance for differences in interaction design. Why should the Ubuntu browser be any different in any of these form factors? It makes no sense to design otherwise.

The aspect of my work I was mostly proud of, though, is working with the community behind Ubuntu. Hundreds of passionate people who tirelessly build and refine the fabric of the Ubuntu ecosystem. Most of the people in the Ubuntu community are driven by the genuine desire to build and own an operative system and a set of apps that they can call their own. In age of pre-digested consumer choices, where big brands and corporations dictate the way you consume and build the digital and physical world, I find inspiring to see how a community of enthusiasts joins forces to create something so important and so meaningful in the name of Freedom.

We helped the Community by developing an extensive set of design principles and guidelines, which are available on the Ubuntu Design website. This exercise was extremely useful in clarifying our design system, and putting it down in words and pictures.