Why Great Design Matters To Your Business and Your Customers

In talking with people at events and with prospective clients, I mention the importance of visual interface design when building software and I hear similar responses: "What is the ROI of 'great design'?" and "What does it mean to me? I just need to have an application that works." This article delves into the elements of how great design is important for you and your customers.

When I decided to write an article on the evolution of the relationship of software, design and business ROI, it surprised me somehow that I've been involved in software and web applications for 16 years. Many people who I work with have been in the software and design industry for as long or longer. Over the years, we have seen changes to customer-facing applications, from terminal-based green screens to the early Internet days, NCSA Mosaic and early customer experiences were just getting off the ground (just compare Canadian bank CIBC now and back in 1996).

One of the early focuses of the web was to provide access to company information, and our earlier client development work reflected this. Indexing, searching, customer transactions, security, performance and focus on standard software quality control measures. But even then in 1996, there was a desire to create better looking websites. Books such as "Creating Killer Web Sites" provoked strong reactions -- form over function, appearance over practicality and usability. Billed as "the design book that changed the face of the web", the designs and concepts presented have not aged well, but at the time, the various web layout tricks and visual hacks pushed designers and developers to achieve a better user experience.

Today the arguments seem quaint -- form vs. function? Why not both? In fact, emphasis of one over the other leads to dissatisfaction. We intuitively know it and feel that balance in using products that Apple produces. Similarly, you know from personal experience how frustrating bad design is: poor navigation, confusing images, distracting imagery. Simplified and beautiful user interfaces such as like Mint and Vimeo make it easy to accomplish tasks in a clear and enjoyable manner.

How about ROI? There is a low incremental cost to a project in including visual interface design as part of the project. Effort is required to design the site regardless; the additional 5-10% to produce a more usable, clean and beautiful UI translates into the following savings and revenue generators:

  • Increased revenues: customer adoption, repeat business, and referrals
  • Lower costs: lower help desk / call centre contacts, efficient workflows and browser interactivity lowers hardware and hosting costs
  • Productivity improvements: effort on visualization and consolidated information design reduces effort and time per transaction

Beyond ROI, there is an urgent need for companies to reinvent themselves and stay current.

I recently attended the DesignThinkers 2010 conference in Toronto and was heartened by the consistent themes presented by many respected leaders in the visual design industry. These are similar things as we have experienced from our agile software methodology:

  • Focus on all aspects of how a customer/user interacts with your system. It's not about a particular moment or a button but end-to-end thinking.
  • Creating the most value possible by tracing design and features back to business goals and your customer needs
  • Spend the time in understanding the current model in order to improve it rather than reskin and do the same thing. The time spent can produce huge potential gains

For further reading on design thinking, take a look at the work of Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management and one of the presenters at DT2010. In particular, his article titled "Design Thinking and How It Will Change Management Education: An Interview and Discussion" on business, innovation, and design thinking highlights the benefits of good design on business and ROI. In particular, he compares traditional firms with "design thinking" firms and it highlights some key aspects of Jonah and how we engage our clients: project-defined, collaborative, iterative, deductive, solving "wicked problems", a "nothing can't be done" attitude, and that constraints increase the challenge and excitement.

Finally, you can see some ideas that we have come up with for clients such as Financial Planners Standards Council with an innovative and highly usable dashboard and message system to make it easy for people to understand what they need to do to achieve their certification goals.

  1. [...] perform its intended purpose, it will never be used. When you begin each new interface design, focus first on function and then, if needed, incorporate other elements when the application as met its intended [...]

  2. I have built a website and I was thinking of changing the template.I got some ideas from here! You could visit my website and tell me your opinion!

    Jan 14th, 2011
  3. Nicely written. Keep it up.

    Jan 18th, 2011

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We're a team of interactive, software, and business intelligence experts skilled in the design, construction, and management of online enterprise systems.

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