Most UX designers I know are constantly working to improve their craft through learning more about User Experience or experimenting with new and exciting UX tools and technologies. This is a positive quality that may be a byproduct of the UX design process itself, which is heavily predicated on constant improvement, experimentation, and innovation.
However, one of the most important ways of expanding your understanding of UX design is also one of the most underrated. In my experience, novice UX designers tend to avoid trying to understand the business objectives of their clients, which can complicate what are already new concepts to them. In contrast, I observe that most experienced UX designers seek to understand and absorb business objectives—ultimately, making that effort a major part of their UX design process.
In this column, I’ll break down the value of understanding your clients’ business objectives and show how this can not only improve your design process but your designs.
Why Should Designers Care About the Business?
There are countless reasons why an in-depth understanding of not only business in general but your client’s particular brand can give a strong impetus to raising the quality of your designs. Instead of just understanding the business requirements from the design side or looking at the bigger picture regarding why a design fulfills a business need, you can adopt a vastly broader perspective on a project. Let’s consider just a few of the ways in which you can do this.
To Better Focus Your Designs on Business Objectives
Design is inherently a problem-solving process—or so designers believe. Businesses often approach projects with a different outcome from that which their UX designers are seeking in mind. Therefore, it’s critical to align design and business objectives. This leads to a much smoother design process, with far less friction between clients and designers. Furthermore, this changes the design process itself. For example, if an organization is attempting to cater to a demographic they have not previously targeted, they need to place greater focus on user research to understand their audience. If you’re designing a product that exists within a saturated space, give precedence to doing a competitive analysis. Looking at a project from these different perspectives makes the design-thinking process far more dynamic in nature and more flexible in addressing shifting business objectives and needs, as Figure 1 shows.
To Communicate More Effectively with Your Clients
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: your client is probably not a UX designer. The reason communications between UX designers and their clients often feel stilted is because of a gap in understanding that exists between them. Both the UX designer’s lack of understanding of business objectives and the client’s lack of understanding of design strategy can lead to confusion that benefits neither party. However, if UX designers can effectively place themselves in the shoes of their clients and look at projects from their perspective, they can bridge this communication gap effectively. Understanding the client’s business objectives and constraints can provide great insights into their perspectives and perhaps give their decisions and feedback more context, as Figure 2 shows. This can help UX designers empathize with their clients.
To Gain a Deeper Understanding of Competitors
The amount of saturation that is characteristic of the digital-product space over the past half-decade or so has been astounding. Customers easy access to smartphones and Internet connectivity, plus the availability of rich libraries of apps and content—such as Apple’s App Store and Google Play—have enabled competition to flourish. While understanding your competitors is a major part of the UX design process and conducting processes such as competitive analysis can help you to understand them better, taking a business perspective can often illuminate new insights that can benefit your designs. By gaining an understanding of marketing factors such as product positioning and the pricing of your direct competitors, you can more accurately and effectively target your clients’ desired audiences, as Figure 3 depicts.
To More Effectively Illustrate a Product’s Value
Although scoping out a new project and formulating a design strategy are key to the success of any UX design endeavor, internalizing the unique quirks and qualities of the clients’ brand or product can further contribute to the success of your designs—through both tangible and intangible metrics, as Figure 4 shows. When a digital product has a killer feature or other unique selling proposition (USP), part of the responsibility for bringing it front and center in the marketplace falls on the UX designer. Furthermore, discovering that a project I’m working on has elements that are unique and that the marketplace has never seen before gives me a sense of excitement. It opens up a world of possibilities for how a team might design and implement them.
To Build Stronger Long-Term Relationships with Clients
My last and perhaps most significant point is that gaining an in-depth understanding of your clients’ brands, products, user base, and identity can help you build stronger bonds between you, as Figure 5 illustrates. This could in turn lead to more business for you and your client in the future. Once you’ve internalized their business objectives, it becomes much more difficult for them to replace you or your agency with another. Plus, your clients are more likely to trust you with additional, potentially even more lucrative projects.
Being willing to learn about their clients’ business objectives and understand their long-term strategy has propelled the careers of many UX designers forward. Deciding to focus on the business not only gives a fresh perspective to your designs but the entire process through which you create them. Furthermore, in certain circumstances, UX designers might experience a degree of friction with their clients. Being more empathetic toward them can give UX designers a window into their decision-making processes as well. Taking business objectives into account is an important means by which UX designers can deepen their skillset and tangibly advance their career.
Manik was introduced to design when he was building Placesso, a ride-sharing platform based on Facebook’s social graph. While they never launched the platform, the experience taught Manik a lot about design and development. Since then, he has stayed with design. He and his friends began spending a lot of time discussing the designs of newly launched apps, exploring ways to improve their user experience. They felt really badly about people using poor designs so, in 2014, launched Ketchup Designs Studio. In 2015, they changed the name to Onething Design. Since then, they’ve helped a lot of businesses design products people love to use. Read More