How to Become a Better Designer: Learn Business

How to Become a Better Designer: Learn Business

All designers have been there. It’s crunch time on a big project, and all the deliverables have to be in place on a tight schedule. The mockups look great, and the site is a beauty to use, responding to every display size change perfectly, working across all browsers and even on Internet Explorer. But why did the site need a refresh in the first place? Two weeks go by, and the numbers are staying the same. No uptick in new visitors, no new leads generated, nothing but a snazzy pixel perfect interface.

It’s at this point that the grumbling begins, questioning the need for design in the first place, and asking what was the point of all that work just to make the site look “pretty”. And it’s also at this point that the designer in the room starts getting a whole lot of unwanted attention.

This really just comes down to a couple of simple principles, which all add up to my conclusion that designers should just be done with it and learn business.

Why should designers bother with business?

It’s pretty simple. Designers are (hopefully) the ones who understand how to tickle users’ fancies, and usher them to a specific purpose using all kinds of design strategies and fun visual shenanigans. However, without a greater understanding of the end goal, designers are completely reliant on their business-minded colleagues to apply design work in a way that will have the best impact on the necessary area. This system seems a little unintuitive. To provide an example, most people don’t spend lots of money on, say, a fancy new car part only to try and install it themselves (assuming they don’t have the required know-how). In other areas of business, you pay for the product and the application of it, but with designers it seems much of the time the carefully sculpted product is delivered and left in less capable hands.

The easy answer seems to be readily apparent: teach designers the basics of business, so they can weigh in on the best way to approach a business problem using design.

Companies like Google, Facebook, Uber, and others have embraced the idea of a design based product or marketing strategy, arguably to great success. What that means is the product designers and marketing directors are working closely together, and each probably has a great understanding of the other’s perspective and knows how to provide valuable insight into the other’s work.

Isn’t this an unrealistic request of designers?

Not at all.

Designers are by definition great problem solvers. They’re able to meet the needs of a specific problem, using a toolset of principles that cover a wide variety of disciplines (art, psychology, biology, to name a few). Given the right understanding of business principles, designers have the potential to make insights into business decisions that almost anyone else would be incapable to make.

This isn’t an unreasonable expectation of designers. Many designers spend a large amount of time designing for things that lack purpose. While this isn’t necessarily a problem in and of itself, there is much more to gain when designers are solving problems instead of just designing for the sake of design. With some basics in the principles of marketing a product, of how customers react to various non-design aspects of a company, designers would be able to create intrinsically purposeful deliverables, without even having to consult with a product manager or someone else “in the know” about the principles of business and marketing. Even with that small increase in knowledge, designers become measurably more valuable.

This might feel unfair, right? who am I to say what designers should and shouldn’t be doing? Well, I consider myself first and foremost a designer, and by attempting to understand the basics of product marketing I’ve been able to make more informed and more useful insights into processes that before were completely outside of my understanding.

Design is an incredibly powerful tool, and designers as a consequence have the potential to be very powerful players in any company. Designers can make valuable contributions to a company outside of their design deliverables, but first they have to educate themselves so those contributions can be articulated.

So, designers. Instead of perusing the Photoshop patch notes or reading up on the latest and greatest Sketch plugin, do some research into product marketing. Read some business and entrepreneurship blogs, and keep up to date with market trends that affect your specific field. Easy things like those will increase your value to your company or clients tremendously, and it will make you an even more powerful player than you already are.