The Business Behind Great Digital Product Design

By: Tim Pacific
Basketball hoop with ball

When it comes to user-centered design, the user is king. The idea of putting the user’s needs above all else is constantly reinforced in digital product design and development. While the end user of custom software is very important, focusing only on one set of needs misses another significant need - the business.

Digital design solutions aren’t working if they’re not fulfilling user needs and driving business goals. Too often designers wrap the success of UX development around a package of “easy-to-use.” But, if a web application or digital product is easy to use and it’s not driving business goals - say, attracting website visitors or converting members - then the product isn’t serving its purpose, which makes design less successful. On the flip side, if a website is driving business needs but is frustrating to navigate or grasp intuitively, users will abandon the site and look for something with less friction to serve their needs.

Designers create real value for businesses and users when we fully understand both and bring them together. The real opportunity for a digital product to be innovative, engaging, and profitable lies within that place where user needs and business goals overlap.

Primary Business Research

It can be tempting to start a digital product development project by asking business stakeholders who users are then jumping right in to find out about those users. After all, that’s who we’re brought in to serve, right?

But there is another set of questions focused on the business itself that designers should ask first. Sometimes clients haven’t thought through these issues yet and don’t realize how they impact their web development projects. Asking clients these questions can help get designers to the true heart of business problems.

Primary research can validate our assumptions about the business and its customers, and reveal new insights. Once we understand the business itself, we can see how we might best serve it. In addition, we will have a clearer picture of the users we need to look at and what we want to know about them.

For example, if you’re designing custom software or a web application for a meal planning business that is using a subscription model, you’re not really concerned with how potential users shop for clothes online. You want to find out about their eating habits, their food shopping habits, the last subscription-based service they signed up for and why, etc.

Knowing the business will also point designers in the right direction for getting to better know users and the problem we’re trying to solve with digital product development. Then we can get into answering all of those important questions about the user, such as who they are, what their needs are, what motivates them, and so on.

Business Needs to Consider

Here are some ways to make sure you’re considering business needs in your website design process:

Complete a business model canvas with stakeholders. Ask stakeholders to share their business model, value proposition, revenue stream, and cost structure. Who’s their customer segment? What’s their competitive advantage? What is important to them as a business? Strategyzer has a business model canvas for documenting and visualizing these questions.

Create a single journey map that captures both perspectives. When you have the interactions of a user’s journey and the interactions of the business, you’ll be able to see where they sync and where there are opportunities to fill gaps between the two. You can read more about how to do this in Erika Hall’s article.

Develop relevant Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Business and website metrics that are specific, measurable, attainable, and time-based will assess the success of your designs. If they are developed correctly, these will give you hard data and insight into whether your designs are meeting business goals.

As you’re doing your research, you’ll probably start to notice that business needs and user needs are not necessarily the same thing. It’s a web designer’s job to understand the differences, because they will inform each stage of the design process and gauge whether the design is sensible. If we start with a solid foundation that identifies both user and business needs, we’ll end up with a strong, successful web application that the business is eager to implement and customers are eager to use.

DockYard is a digital product agency offering exceptional user experience, design, full stack engineering, web app development, custom software, Ember, Elixir, and Phoenix services, consulting, and training.