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Curator of Designers in Business
A common hurdle for designers looking to have greater business influence is how to manage relationships with executive colleagues. Building trust and influence at this level can be a tricky political and interpersonal challenge.
I’m opening this first newsletter by sharing advice from two design leaders who have thoughtful approaches to breaking down these barriers.
Kate discusses how designers - in contrast to other specialisms - often have too narrow a focus on their own area of practice. Kate advises that that in the meeting context we can be more effective when we talk about design and “put it through the lens of what the business is trying to accomplish”.
I’d not heard of nemawashi (a Japanese approach to consensus building) before researching for this newsletter. The concept caught my eye in a broad article discussing how designers can better communicate with executives.
After digging further I found Erin’s article to be a particularly insightful take on the subject.
Erin shares how the Japanese system of nemawashi can be one of the most productive ways to push our ideas forward. It can work effectively because “we are building consensus openly, not forcing consensus”.
Nemawashi could be an approach worth considering when it comes to building better relationships between designers and business colleagues. Erin’s article helpfully concludes with a Q&A, covering off common enquiries about the process.
Each newsletter we’ll take a closer look at a business strategy, model or framework. This month I’ve been exploring Porter’s Five Forces.
It’s mentioned early in two recommended business long-reads for designers: d.MBA‘s 7 Things Every Designers Should Know About Business and InVision‘s Business Thinking for Designers.
The Five Forces model is - according to the team at Mindtools - “a simple but powerful tool for understanding the competitiveness of your business environment”.
Put simply, Porter’s Five Forces is a framework for assessing the robustness of a business in a wider competitive market. Designers can use Five Forces to inform design priorities when faced with potential threats to an organisation’s business health.
By the Lucidchart Content Team
Of all the breakdowns I reviewed, I found Lucidchart‘s the most digestible introduction.
Their article details relatable examples alongside each Force, and suggests a number of familiar design processes (such as empathy and customer journey mapping) as routes towards a Five Forces assessment.
📝 Article: The Pitfalls of Porter’s Five Forces
Like any framework, Five Forces has its pitfalls if poorly applied. The world of business has changed since this technique’s inception in 1979, with 21st century companies often straddling multiple industries. This complicates Five Forces assessments, making them more arduous to complete and potentially less reliable.
According to Investopedia, “Expanding the intake for the model to consider all the different competitive environments around the world makes the analysis more cumbersome for the return”.
This breakdown of the framework’s potential blindspots is a must-read before diving into your own Five Forces analysis.
Ever been asked to relate the cost of design effort to business outcomes? Or to link the outcomes of design testing to potential cost savings or revenue uplift?
📝 Article: How to estimate the ROI of design work
Alen tackles a common bias which can get in the way of our ability to demonstrate the return on design investment; the habit of designers explaining the benefits of their work largely through a qualitative lens.
Through a 3-step process, Alen’s methodology for estimating the ROI of design looks to “translate design’s impact through numbers, metrics, and strategic arguments“. Excellent advice articulated through very relatable examples.
🎥 Video: How Dropbox tests new business
In this candid talk for Designer Fund, Kim Bost (Dropbox’s Principal Product Designer at the time of filming) shares 3 common mistakes when setting goals for evaluating the potential revenue impact of design experiments.
Kim led the Premium Revenue Opportunities team at Dropbox, charged with identifying and realising ideas with revenue-making potential at speed.
Decisions on whether to recommend further business investment needed to be made within a single trading quarter, bringing the importance of high quality measurement and analysis into sharp focus.
I particularly agree with Kim’s final pitfall to avoid when testing - “Evaluate, don’t validate“.
We often discuss selling the value of design to existing business stakeholders. But what about the challenge of selling your own design services as a freelancer or agency?
🎤 Podcast: Pricing Design with guest Dan Mall
Sales doesn’t always come naturally to designers. As a freelance designer this is something I’ve had to become more comfortable with over the years.
Insightful interviews like this one with Dan Mall help demystify a powerful sales strategy - value pricing.
This interview is worth a listen - whether you work for yourself or not - with Dan covering estimation, relationship building, and how “good sales just looks like asking good questions“.
If you’re interested in digging deeper, Dan has also written a practical book on pricing design.
Ever been frustrated by a perceived lack of innovation in your organisation? Surprised that your industry hasn’t experienced the kind of tech disruption seen in other domains? You could be feeling the effects of something called Path Dependence.
Decisions made decades or even centuries ago have created deeply embedded systems or standards which are extremely difficult (and expensive) to move away from.
As Max put it in his article, “depending on what industry you’re sitting in, upending your competitors often requires a whole lot more than you’d imagine”.
That’s a wrap for issue 1! Research for this first edition took me in a multitude of directions and on a Dunning-Kruger rollercoaster around the world of business knowledge. I’ve got a long list of topics to dig into further and plenty to learn.
I’ve earmarked a couple of topics for issue 2, had a book suggested for review, and a request for content related to SaaS product pricing strategies… keep an eye on your inbox for the next edition in August.