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Chris Ashby
September 21, 2021

How to use design to impact your business growth

Use the subjective nature of design to start driving business growth by following 3 simple steps.

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

Using design to grow a fledgling business is hard. Like staring at a blank screen, unsure of what you could do differently in order to get more sales, or more conversions, or more call bookings.

Even more difficult is having the confidence that what you’re getting designed will actually perform better than what you already have. Especially when good design is expensive, and often incredibly time intensive.

You could easily be paying thousands for an agency only for them to deliver you something that actually performs worse than what you have currently, if they’re not briefed right, or given the right objective.

Yuk.

Because of this, I wanted to share with you 3 simple steps I have found (and use in my everyday design process), in order to help you avoid just that.

3 simple steps to give you the confidence that every design decision you make, and every design you pay for, will be done with the goal of growing your business.

Step 1 — View design as a strategic tool

The first step is a mindset change.

Instead of thinking of design as visual tool — a service to make something look good — think of design instead as a strategic tool. A service that should directly impact your business objectives.

Instead of thinking about what you might want your website, ad creative, or app to look like first, think instead about what you might want it to achieve for your business?

Is it more sales? Higher AOV? Better customer satisfaction or NPS score? And if you don’t have clear objective for your business, then define them first, before you start working on design.

Then, once you’ve taken that first leap, you can start to apply the same thinking to multiple designs across multiple areas of your business.

Maybe one page in the customer journey of your website is all about improving average order value (the basket page perhaps)? Maybe one facebook ad is aiming to drive traffic and another is to generate call bookings?

Think about the full customer journey, and break each designed part down, asking these questions:

  • What is the primary objective of this asset/page/etc?
  • How can the design of this asset impact that primary objective?
  • How could I change my perception of what I want, based on impacting the primary objective?
  • How can I brief this into a designer or design service so that they know what the objective of this design is?

Now your design efforts will be more than just visual. They will be strategic. And everything you design, or get designed, will be aligned with your business objectives.

Step 2 — Little and often

Using design to impact growth is a marathon, not a sprint.

Human beings are complex creatures, and whilst sometimes it is easy to spot holes in a user experience in order to create a huge improvement quickly, more often than not those improvements are gradual, and happen through multiple, smaller changes.

So instead of trying to create huge projects for a design team or designer to undertake, think instead about how you can break that down into smaller, more tangible chunks. Chunks that will have a direct impact on something because of a hypothesis you might have. Chunks that you can test quickly in order to see if they work or not.

Think about this every day, every week, and focus on small, iterative changes that align with your primary objectives for that page, asset, or journey.

Ask yourself:

  • What is the most important objective for my business right now?
  • How can I make a small change today to impact that objective?
  • What bigger changes might have a significant impact on that objective, and how could I test that hypothesis?

These questions, asked regularly, help us to understand the why behind anything that needs design. They help us to see the small changes that can add up to a big impact. And they make it quicker and easier for us to impact change in an ongoing fashion, instead of relying on big projects with the hope they’ll deliver massive value.

Which brings me neatly onto step 3…

Step 3 — Test and validate

Every now and then however, you’re going to stumble across a bigger design idea. Something exciting, that could have a huge impact on your business, but that starts as a raw, unformed idea. A big project (oh no!), that requires a lot of work, and a lot of money or resource to build.

One that you probably can’t do quickly, and affects multiple parts of a user or customer journey.

When this happens, iterative change isn’t going to cut it.

But instead of acting rashly, and briefing a huge project, the best thing to do is to stop, think, and map out a hypothesis. One that you can test, and then validate.

Too often, at this point, we let our imaginations run wild. We get carried away with the idea, building it on the fly, figuring it out as we go. I’ve been there many, many times before.

Now, sometimes it does work, and creativity and innovation is often predicated on taking risks, but you need to understand how to manage that risk, and design for it. Design deliverables take time to complete, and resource is expensive. It’s important to make sure that you’re building the right thing, in the right way, before rushing into anything.

This is why we need step 3: test, and validate.

With every big idea ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the quickest way to test this idea in a live environment or with real users? (this could be a survey, user test, landing page, etc)
  • What is the minimum amount of design this needs in order to build that test?
  • What does success for this idea look like? (What objective will it impact? How will it impact your business?)
  • How does the test fit with my long term vision for this idea? How might I design the test in order to be easily expanded out to the long term vision?

These questions allow us to rationalise the crazy big ideas. And they provide us with a framework for aligning them with specific business objectives just like the smaller, iterative design efforts in our business.

Because the bigger and riskier the idea is, the more confident we need to be that we should spend the time and money building it, and the more confident we need to be that the idea is designed and built to impact the right objective.

They also enable us to do something incredibly powerful, that most prioritisation frameworks (like ICE) fail to achieve. That is, to evaluate each big idea as it arises, in the context of your current business environment, and then re-evaluate what you do next based on the results of that idea, instead of just listing hundreds of ideas in priority order based on assumptions (that will inevitably never be built).

3 Steps to growth through design

And there you have it, 3 simple steps to approach using design to actually grow your business, instead of being relegated to basic visual aesthetics.

All it takes is to:

  • View design as a strategic partner, not just a visual service
  • Iterate on your design efforts little and often
  • Test and validate big ideas quickly and efficiently when they do arise

With these 3 steps design suddenly becomes something that is investable, something that is worth the money spent. Design becomes a lever you can pull instead of staring at that blank screen wondering what to do next.

And more importantly, design can be a tool for you to take your business to the next level of growth.

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