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Chris Ashby
October 25, 2021

The business impact of design in 2021

It is often hard to understand the true impact of design on business growth. Here are 14 statistics to help you do just that.

One of the many benefits of investing in design for your business

It’s easy to understate the problems facing small business owners and startup founders, when the reality is that they often have so much more on their plate than design.

As designers and design business owners, we know the true value of design, but it’s often hard to communicate that value tangibly. Especially for founders or small business owners, when there are a million and one other jobs that are more important.

We need data and statistics that prove its value.

So I took some time to scour the internet, and put together a selection of 14 of the best statistics, studies, and data that helps prove the tangible value of design to businesses.

Enjoy.

1 . Businesses that embrace design, generate 32% more revenue, and 56% more shareholder returns, on average

This is probably one of the most commonly cited statistics about the business impact of design, from a report by McKinsey in 2018.

They found that of the businesses they surveyed, those that scored in the top quartile of their design index, outperformed and outgrew the market average by as much as two to one.

What this means is that design can be seen not as just visual aesthetic, but as a strategic amplifier of business growth.

Design takes your growth strategy, your promotional activity, your product experience or customer service, and turns up the volume, amplifying the impact of your efforts across every channel in your business.

Once you have the fundamentals in place, design is an incredible way to accelerate your growth, and amplify the results of those other efforts across your business.

If you look at this alongside the design impact scores for different areas of business by Invision in the article linked for number 2 (below), we can see that design has the biggest impact and acceleration on the following areas:

  • Product usability
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Brand equity
  • Revenue
  • Conversion
  • Employee productivity

What’s interesting is that not all of these are customer-related metrics, and that design can have a significant impact on things like employee productivity within businesses as well.

2. Companies with high design maturity (as defined by the Invision design maturity model) are more likely to see cost savings, revenue gains, and market position improvements

Invision did this piece on design maturity, in which they identified that companies with a high level of design maturity are more likely to experience cost-savings, revenue increase, and market position improvements.

What design maturity comes down to in the definition by Invision here is a movement of the design function away from being a visual-based discipline, into more of a strategic partner, utilising more collaborative process across multiple functions within an organisation, and by using more of an experimentation-led process focused on business outcomes rather than subjective opinion.

So we can therefore surmise that those organisations that use design as a more strategic operation, through experimentation, testing, and collaboration, get a higher level of business impact from the function of design.

So what can businesses do to improve design maturity within their organisation? Well, some things take cultural change, and time to implement, but some initial things that can help are:

  • Daily standups including, or for, the design function
  • Involving the design function in strategic planning & prioritisation meetings and sessions
  • Giving the design function more room to experiment based on an objective, rather than a prescribed solution (set a metric-based goal)
  • Increasing the budget for your design function to run user-testing, interviews, and gather customer feedback and insight (tools & time)

3. Brands with a strong, consistent message, are more memorable

This effect of design is incredibly powerful. Consistency in messaging and presentation is one of the intangible benefits you get from design that is incredibly hard to track. After all, how can we possibly know when people have memories triggered that lead them to a purchase?

What we do know, is that more emotional messages and problems resonate in a more powerful and memorable way, and in fact, if you can communicate your message as a story, that’s even better. Stories are shown to be up to 22 times more memorable than other forms of written communication.

The key with this one is consistency though, which indicates the power and importance of brand strategy in successful businesses.

Brand strategy is all about creating a consistent, emotionally driven and resonant mission, purpose, and identity.

Investing in brand strategy is imperative for a strong and powerful brand (in my opinion), and goes beyond just having a logo. It also speaks to the strategic value of design beyond just the visual. Brand strategy is about creating a consistent, unified, simple, resonant, and powerful message. A message you can tell people time and time again, that speaks to the root of your business at it’s core, and to the problem you are solving for your customers.

Do this well, and users won’t be able to get your brand out of their head.

4. 50% of consumers believe that website design is crucial to a business’s overall brand.

A report conducted by Top Design Firms in 2021 showed us that half of consumers believe that website design is crucial to a business’s overall brand.

It is incredible, but not surprising, that in 2021, the design of a website is such a huge contributor to the success and perception of a brand.

What this means is that investing in good, user-friendly, simple, and high-quality web design is more important than ever for growing businesses and startups. You simply can’t afford (for the 50% of consumers that you may be creating a negative impression for) to not invest in this.

It’s one of those things, where if you don’t invest in it, nothing bad will happen, but you could also be losing a lot of potential users, customers, and sales that you have absolutely no idea you are missing out on.

5. 42% of people will leave a website because of poor functionality

Also included in the same report by Top Design Firms in 2021, was that 42% of people leave a website due to poor functionality.

In fact, this is one of the most common reasons that people leave a website.

For this statistic alone, your business should be investing in more than just a cheap graphic designer to design a quick landing page.

Your website needs to be usable, simple, quick, easy, seamless, and frictionless for your users to navigate, use, and shop on.

And similarly, your digital product should focus on user experience first and foremost.

This should be done regardless of the value that a product or website can bring to someones life. That value doesn’t matter if your users or customers are getting frustrated just by browsing or using it. We need to stop thinking of good user experience and usability as a nice to have for a digital business, it should instead be a minimum barrier to entry.

Think of it this way — by paying for a highly skilled product or UX designer or design service to optimise and design your website or product, you are saving yourself a potential loss of 42% of your traffic. Users that may have just left your website or product without you even knowing. Worth the money? I think so.

6. When looking at a website for the first time, 38% of consumers look at a page’s layout or navigational links

Another interesting stat in the Top Design Firms report, is that 38% of consumers engage with a websites layout or navigation links.

This goes hand in hand with another (shocking) statistic coming at the end of this article, but should be an indicator of where to focus your initial efforts into exploring the usability and design of your website or product.

Navigation is a hugely overlooked area of website and product design, especially on mobile. So often I see startups, businesses, and founders resorting to a bog standard list of pages as their navigation, without thinking about how to optimise it for their users, or present that information differently.

We need to break away from the traditional view of navigation as just a list of web pages or locations within your product.

Look at your user journeys, look at your highest conversion pages, and ask users and customers what they are looking for primarily. Learn what they do and don’t understand, and guide them through your website or product, instead of expecting them to just find their way naturally.

Your users deserve for you to create the best treasure map you can for them, so that they can find that treasure that is your product or service.

Some easy improvements you can make to your navigation if you are unsure where to start, are:

  • Add a context sentence under each link title, explaining what the user should expect to find on that page (especially if the title is ambiguous)
  • Add a your primary call to action button into your navigation, enabling your user to convert from anywhere on your website
  • Use imagery or iconography in your navigation, to pull out key pages or categories
  • Use typographic heirarchy in your navigation, so as to draw the user’s attention to the most popular pages, or highest converting journeys

7. 60% of consumers rate usability as an important design characteristic for an online shop

In a report by Statista in 2020, they found that the number one rated factor for users in an online shop was usability.

But more than just affecting online shops, this signals a shift in consumer attitude towards digital products and websites in general.

Consumers and users are becoming more savvy when it comes to good and bad user experience. We are less and less tolerant of poor user experience, and poor usability, partly due to the increase in younger consumers and their familiarity with technology, and partly due to overall growing technical proficiency.

To combat this shift as business owners, we need to change our mindset regarding design and how it impacts our business. We need to view design as the solution to creating great usability and user experience, in order to not only attract new customers, but also to retain existing ones.

As more and more businesses invest in design and user experience, so do existing businesses begin to lose customers to these more user-friendly competitors. Equally, as new, more user-friendly startups begin emerging into existing markets, do existing businesses need to increase the amount they are investing into user experience and product design.

8. Original graphics improve performance, whereas stock or repeated imagery can damage performance

In this article by Venngage, they highlight the importance of original imagery vs stock imagery or copied content.

There are several reasons for this (including brand awareness amongst others), but the primary reason is that Google ranks original content more highly that repeated content. And that includes the imagery you use on that content as well.

By creating unique imagery, and thereby using design, you improve your likelihood of ranking higher on Google (which makes up 82% of online search traffic), therefore increasing the amount of organic traffic being sent to your website and product.

Who wouldn’t want that?

9. 94% of consumers cited design as the main reason for leaving or mistrusting a website

As shown on this article, and in a study by Red Website Design in 2018, a staggering 94% of consumers cited design as a main reason for mistrust or leaving a website.

This is HUGE.

This statistic proves that almost all consumers are put-off by badly designed websites in some capacity. This might not necessarily lead to a user leaving your website or product, but it does create a negative peak in the user’s experience, which as we know from Peak-End Theory (more on this later), can be very impactful to the overall perception of our brand or product.

It would be interesting to see this more broken down by industry, but we could surmise from this statistic that website design is at least important in some capacity for businesses in all industries, regardless of the importance of their website to their actual customer experience or user journey.

10. Judgments on website credibility are 75% based on a website’s overall aesthetics

This study by BCS identified a link between perceived business credibility, and the overall aesthetics of a business’s website.

This is useful because two of the key jobs we have to do for our prospective customers on our websites is first: reduce their perceived risk, and second: improve their level of trust in our business, service or product.

This proves the link between design, and website and business credibility, which when combined with number 12 on this list, suggests that for any business, website design and aesthetic is a key motivator of user and consumer intent.

11. 2 in 3people prefer to browse through a beautifully designed website

This article by CXL proves how important first impressions, and great design are, to user perception of our business.

It would seem a no-brainer to think that the majority of people would prefer to browse a beautifully designed website, surely that’s obvious?

Well, that may be the case, but what this does highlight alongside that is the importance of our consumer mindset through their experience with our business. Because what users ‘prefer’, may actually be a very important factor in their overall satisfaction with our business.

If you don’t know Peak-End Theory, it states that memories are most commonly formed from the peaks of our experiences (both negative and positive), and the end of our experiences.

These represent key areas to focus on for our business, which means that at any point where we can focus on creating a positive experience peak for our users, we should invest in that experience — including investing in design where it improves the experience for our users and customers.

These positive peaks drive the perception of our experience, and of our business, and increase the likelihood of user and customer retention, as well as referrals and organic growth.

12. 81% of customers search online before they make a purchase in a physical store

In this 2019 study by GE Capital Retail Bank, they found that the vast majority of customers do an online search before ever entering a physical store.

This is interesting for a few reasons, starting with the link it creates between digital and physical touchpoints.

More than ever, the success of a physical business now also relies on their digital presence. The first impression of the digital presence, and the experience it provides users, directly impacts the success of the business in the physical space.

This means that even physical businesses need to lean on user-friendly, and well-designed digital experiences in order to have success. This makes investing in a website, digital experiences, and user experience, incredibly important.

Secondly, this statistic also highlights the importance of digital discovery for physical businesses. Consumers are more and more often turning to their devices — smartphone or otherwise — to plan their trips, or to plan a lunch or meal or attendance to an event. And the next generation of consumers are even more likely to turn to digital discovery as the first port of call for finding physical businesses.

Some digital things to focus on that can improve your discoverability and experience as a physical business are:

  • Having a user-friendly website
  • Having high-ranking content for keywords related to your business
  • Making sure you have a business listing on Google
  • Incentivising online reviews for your customers in order to increase consumer trust when they find you online

13. 57% of consumers wouldn’t recommend a business without a mobile-friendly website

This one is focused on the bottom of our conversion funnel, and our post-purchase, retention driving marketing activity.

It highlights the connection between digital experience, and the likelihood for our customers to not only stick around themselves, but also convince others to use our service.

It obviously depends on industry — a lot of B2B businesses for example find that the majority of their traffic is desktop instead of mobile — but if you own any business where your traffic is predominantly mobile, you need to focus on making your mobile experience not only usable, but enjoyable.

14. 70% of B2B SMBs lack a call to action button on their website

We’ve saved the best to last, and this statistic is crazy! (at least in my opinion)

70% of small or medium B2B businesses don’t feature a clear call to action on their website. What?

Yes, you read that right, and if this is your business there is a really easy fix…

Make sure your website has a very clear and direct call to action!

This should be ideally a button that directs users through to the best route to contact, book a call, or buy your services or product.

I do get it though. Design can be hard to understand, and it’s not always clear what exactly a website should or shouldn’t have. It also highlights the gap between best practice, and what most SMBs and startups are doing.

Adding a clear call to action button, for those that don’t have one on their website, will be one of the biggest, and simplest change you can make, to improve conversion — and the impact it could have is huge.

It screams to me that small businesses and startups need design more than ever, not just to design from a brief, but to provide design advice that can actually impact business objectives, through user experience, best practice, and more.

And in a time where digital experience has such a huge impact on all businesses, this couldn’t be more important.

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