4 Guiding Principles in Building a Design-Driven Business
As online experiences evolve, the importance of design only grows.
In the past decade we've seen design emerge as an increasingly important aspect of building great businesses. Thanks to companies like Airbnb and Apple, consumers have grown accustomed to great design, whether they realize it or not. Today, ensuring that your business cares about this vital concept is nearly table stakes, and in hyper-competitive environments is often the difference between success and failure.
As a Cofounder at dutchie, a cannabis technology and ecommerce platform, I've been fortunate to have had a direct impact on our company's perspective on design since day one. As a designer myself, it was a priority for me that its principles be deeply embedded in our DNA, and as a partial result, we've been able to drive business growth on a reputation for delivering high quality customer experiences. Building a design-driven culture isn't always an easy task, however, so here are four principles that can be implemented to help establish similar values.
1. Recognize that designers are problem solvers as much as they are artists
Oftentimes, design is thought of only in the visual sense, but truly great product design is actually more about solving problems. While visual aesthetics are important, solutions that create efficiencies for users are what truly create a winning user experience. So, it's critical that designers communicate early and often, and not just with product managers, but with customers as well, to ensure they're fully immersed in challenges and potential hiccups. Great designers know that a deep understanding of any problem is always the best place to start. Design should be thoughtful and created with the intent of delivering a fluid and functional experience — one that not only appeals to the eyes, but increases the ease with which a user interacts with a platform.
2. Don't default to old solutions in problem solving
Working with a familiar design pattern can allow us to move quickly. However, when designers casually implement existing concepts in their products merely because they worked somewhere else, solutions can miss the mark, as they likely won't account for nuances of a new industry and the needs/wants of its specific customers.
As you design, focus on why your customers are different. What is unique about their experience compared to adjacent platforms? Apply first principles thinking — focusing solely on the problem you're trying to solve and pushing aside pre-existing solutions. Small tweaks to the user experience with that in mind go a long way.
At dutchie, we've continued to iterate away from a standard ecommerce model as we zeroed in on the nuances of shopping for cannabis and what makes that experience singular. For example, our checkout process was standard throughout our first year of operating, but as we expanded outside of Oregon and into Washington, we noticed significantly different user behaviors. For our customers in Washington, being able to move through the menu and checkout processes quickly was the primary sales driver, compared to Oregon, where customers spent more time browsing. As a result, we redesigned the checkout process to focus on speed. Not only did these changes serve customers better in Washington, but resulted in an increase in all top-line metrics.
3. Emphasize and invest in research
For many businesses, truly understanding what the customer wants and needs can be challenging, especially if you have a large customer base and your business is growing quickly. Simply put, as designers in that environment, we're often tasked with delivering work so rapidly that it's difficult to do proper research and discovery, but both are tasks essential in ensuring that designers are properly solving problems. To complete them, it's vital that designers have the opportunity to actually sit with customers and discuss their experiences, and for companies to invest in building separate research systems/infrastructure.
At dutchie, we started building our research function nine months after hiring our first designer, and it's been incredibly beneficial. Since then, we've run numerous studies that have helped steer design decisions. One example came via a consumer-facing study that analyzed shopping preferences among different age demographics. We found that the millennials who use our platform enjoy browsing products and exploring menus, with little regard for time, while the older demographics (Boomers among them) tended to move through the platform more quickly, viewing time as limited.
Discoveries such as these drive design decisions. This finding in particular led us to create certain user flows that targeted older demographics with ways to move quickly through the conversion funnel, while addressing younger demographics with discovery focused features.
4. Build a culture of iteration, not perfection
It's easy for designers to fall victim to the pursuit of the perfect. Oftentimes we toil over the smallest of details, resulting in designs taking far too long to make their way into the hands of users. The reality is that more often than not, solutions will need iteration; it's only when actual users are interacting with designs in real scenarios that we'll be able to get the feedback needed in order to make adjustments. Therefore, it's important that we don't strive for flawlessness in design work and instead move briskly to get a viable solution out to users. If you feel 100% positive that you've solved a problem perfectly, you probably spent too much time on your work (and are likely wrong in your estimation anyway).
Design reaches deep into the subconscious of a user, and can make or break an interaction they have with a product or brand. This talent and skill simply cannot be overemphasized; I promise you that your business depends on it.
As online experiences evolve and software makes its way to new and emerging markets, the importance of design only grows. Along with it, I believe, is the evolution of our understanding of what design actually is, and its broader value. The days of viewing designers as artists are starting to drift into the rearview, supplanted by the reality that these people are truly problem solvers, using art as their mode of expression.
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