Daniel McKenzie

digital product design


I just wanted to expand on a topic that began in my newsletter. I hope this is an ongoing conversation because there seems to be a lot of confusion about the value design brings to a business. “Design” in many people’s minds is nothing more than making it “pretty” when in fact, this is just one small part of it. Design also encompasses functionality, usability, strategy, brand and-yes-aesthetics (making it pretty). Below are some quotes that might help clarify the confusion.

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” 
- Steve Jobs

In the case of building a website, all parties are working with design: information architects, interactive designers, engineers and business strategists. Everyone is involved in giving the site meaningful order and appeal—design.

“We [designers] provide a process, a managerial discipline with its alternate phases of analysis and creative exploration, which in itself is an invaluable guide to the company’s strategic future. This process allows management to visualize and test its strategic options. It makes strategies appear real before rollout production decisions are made.” 
- James G. Hansen, Chairman and Co-founder, Source/Inc.

So much for designers not playing a meaningful business role in an organization. Designers make it possible for companies to test the waters before going public. In other words, design reduces the risk of danger! Unfortunately, often as a result of impatience and lack of strategic planning, many companies oversee this important step to their product development and wonder later, why their product hasn’t been received well. Audience studies, competitive analysis, personas, scenarios, user tasks, prototypes and user testing are often seen as gratuitous and ways for designers to make more money from their clients! While it does take more time and money, the result is correcting problems before, not after you’ve spent a ton of money on layered Photoshop files, HTML development and programming. And everyone knows how difficult it is to change things after the beast has launched.

“Many clients are also surprised to learn that the way the company and its products “look” not only influences sales (the consumer), but also, and perhaps even more significant from a strategic point of view, the way in which its own management, sales force, and distributors perceive it.”
- James G. Hansen, Chairman and Co-founder, Source/Inc.

Does it really matter how your employees see your products? Remember those ugly black leather shoes your parents used to make you wear to church? Remember those uniforms they made you wear at your first job when you were 16? Remember playing soccer as a youngster and discovering that the other team had better uniforms?

“…Information only has value when it is successfully communicated. If it cannot be accessed or understood it does not have value.” 
- Dirk Knemeyer, Thread Inc.

OK, so you have some great website features that are going to make Facebook and Flickr look like a Cub Scout project. You built your website with feature-centered design and know that users will be crawling all over it once they find out all the cool things it can do to make their lives easier. You launch your site with the expectation “build it and they will come”. They come (some of them), the problem is they soon leave. What happened? Nobody “gets it”, that’s what happened. A shift in priorities from feature-centered design to customer-centered design would have saved you a lot of strife. Also, a good dose of user testing and iterative design would have helped. For 1-2 weeks more of work you could’ve saved yourself a headache. The value of smart design is crucial to the success of not only your project, but in most cases, your business too.


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