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Chris Ashby
September 6, 2021

What is a growth designer, and why might your business need one

The benefit of aligning design with strategic business objectives

Photo by Visual Stories || Micheile on Unsplash

There’s been some buzz in the product design world over the last year or so about a new, emerging type of designer in the industry.

Whether or not it’s just another job title amongst the throng of so many is something that you can judge for yourself. But it’s certainly something that bears consideration if you run a small business or startup. Especially if you’re looking to either hire a designer, or to hire an agency, with the aim of not just creating great looking designs, but also using design to grow your business.

The role I’m talking about is growth designer.

First of all, what is a growth designer?

A growth designer, or growth design more simply put, is a combination of disciplines you might not usually find in a UX, UI, or product designer.

Granted there is a lot of crossover between disciplines, but I’ve found that growth designers possess two to three additional skillsets when compared to your more traditional or specialised UX, UI, or product designer.

Those are:

  • Knowledge and application of conversion rate optimisation
  • Knowledge of marketing and growth strategy
  • Knowledge of user psychology and storytelling

In a broader sense, what this really entails is just a wider knowledge of business processes, functions, and a more strategic alignment with business objectives and growth goals. Stef Ivanov from Pony Studio explains this in more detail in their post here.

Granted, growth goals for businesses are more prominent in earlier stage startups, where product market fit hasn’t quite been found yet, or growth is the primary business objective, but a more strategic outlook on the application of design can be beneficial to any business.

So let’s take a look at these areas of expertise in a bit more detail

Conversion rate optimisation

As a growth designer, it is important to understand not just user testing, but also how you use various tests to optimise for conversion — whatever the conversion metric might be.

Essentially, this primarily involves two types of qualitative testing, combined with user research, data analysis, and any other user insight.

Those types of test are:

  • A/B test — A test between two or more variants in order to evaluate which performs best. For this to be fair, the test should have ideally 1 variable that is being tested.
  • Multi-variate test — A test between multiple combinations of multiple changes. So for example, if you want to test what combination of copy + design works best, you would test Copy A + Image A, Copy A + Image B, Copy B + Image A, and Copy B + Image A.

When it comes to designing for growth, there are many other routes you can take, but these are your primary go-tos when it comes to quantitative testing.

In order for this to be effective though, certain conditions must be present:

  1. You have enough traffic volume for the tests to be statistically significant
  2. The changes you are testing are big enough to warrant a sizeable impact

This is why, for the growth designer, the most powerful tool when it comes to testing, validating, and then designing solutions, is effective prioritisation.

A decent understanding of CRO, the principles of testing, combined with user research and data analysis, and ruthless prioritisation, is the winning combination for the growth designer.

Marketing & growth strategy

When it comes to marketing and growth strategy for the growth designer, this comes down to understanding two things:

  • How digital marketing works
  • Growth experimentation

A more detailed understanding of digital marketing helps the growth designer to work as a complimentary contributor to the businesses overall marketing strategy. It can be as easy as searching for articles like this one, and spending a bit of time within different marketing platforms (and maybe speaking to some digital marketers!)

Aligning marketing efforts with design output can be incredibly powerful, and by doing so it changes the design requests from marketing from ‘I really can’t be arsed to design this banner,’ to ‘how can we impact this metric as much as possible, and how can design help.’

The next part of understanding growth strategy, comes in the form of growth experimentation.

From a marketing point of view, growth experimentation is about prioritising the highest impact campaigns and activities based on whatever objective you are trying to impact.

So why don’t we apply this same approach to design, and even take that a step further. By working with marketing to craft campaigns that not only test ad creative, copy, or targeting, but also design elements like layout, imagery, landing page design, etc.

Growth experimentation, is the secret power of the growth designer.

User psychology & storytelling

The last key weapon in the arsenal of the growth designer, is a deeper knowledge of how design actually affects user on an emotional level.

This means understanding psychological principles around how we think, and even learning some of the principles of neuroscience and behavioural science.

And there is no better way to understand human behaviour from what I have found, than learning the principles and structures that underpin storytelling.

As human beings, we see our world through the lens of stories. We buy products and services because of the stories they help us tell, or the story we think they will help us tell to others.

Simply put, storytelling is the biggest insight into user behaviour beyond data and traditional insight.

What’s more, it‘s very common for startups and small businesses to have a very limited amount of data at their disposal. Which makes quantitative testing and data very hard to come by. And storytelling is the best way I have found to validate growth experiments, ideas, and risky design changes when you don’t have the data.

If you’re new to storytelling, there are some absolutely killer books you should acquaint yourself with:

How to know if growth design is right for you

Growth design is certainly a niche within product, UX, UI and conversion rate optimisation, but it could be absolutely right for you.

It really depends on what you are looking to accomplish through design in your business or company.

If you’re looking for your first design hire, or looking for an agency and have no designers on your team, then growth design could be a perfect fit for you.

If you’re looking to align design as a strategic partner with the other teams in your business, then growth design also could be a great fit for you.

Whatever the case may be, when you’re looking for your next designer, or wondering how you can make design work harder for you within your organisation, why not give growth design a shot…

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