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Is Inadequate Design Undermining Your Business?

When has suboptimal design let your business down? Was it a product flaw that went unnoticed, a frustrating user experience on your website, an overly verbose PowerPoint presentation, or perhaps an email that failed to engage? By contrast, companies that acknowledge the value of superior design almost double their revenue and shareholder returns compared to their industry counterparts.

While many readers of this post may not be designers, I am confident that you possess a foundational understanding of good design and its role in simplifying comprehension. Often, the effectiveness of design goes unnoticed until one encounters a moment of frustration and wonders why interactions with certain products, brands or services (think health Insurance) can’t be as seamless as others. In essence, effective design consistently prioritizes the audience, customer or user.

“Companies with a strong design outperform companies with a weak design by 219% on the S&P Index over the span of 10 years.”

During a recent Google Firestarters episode, Andy Cowles, a renowned design consultant and former creative director of Rolling Stone magazine, shared insights on the “Aesthetics of Persuasion.” He highlighted how design is fundamentally about “engineering effortless understanding.” This concept extends to how design influences our shopping preferences, choices between alternatives and whether a presentation is applauded or fails miserably—often without designing the experience from the audience’s perspective.

The McKinsey Design Index study evaluates companies based on their design prowess and, for the first time, correlates this with each company’s financial performance.

Companies that prioritized design principles outperformed industry-benchmark growth by 2:1.

As shared here, “According to Adobe, companies with a strong design outperform companies with a weak design by 219% on the S&P Index over the span of 10 years. In fact, 48% of people surveyed by Tyton Media said that the website design of a business was their number one factor in determining the credibility of that business. So not only is good design directly tied to success but it’s also tied to trust.”

Consider a recent presentation you observed: Were the slides engaging? Was the key takeaway clear, or was it challenging to follow? Alternatively, recall an experience of trying to decipher the resume of a job candidate where the person’s contact information was obscurely placed within the document or webpage. Did you abandon the process all together or was that presentation the deciding factor in the hiring decision?

When you reflect on good design, it seamlessly impacts everyday use cases that are somewhat invisible to us.

Amazon: Consider the mobile design of an intuitive e-commerce platform like Amazon. The website’s layout, with its clear categories, predictive search and personalized recommendations, makes it incredibly easy for users to find exactly what they’re looking for, often suggesting products they hadn’t even thought of.This level of effortless navigation and discovery is a result of meticulous design choices focused on user behavior and preferences, enhancing the shopping experience and encouraging more purchases.

Chase Banking App: The design of app interfaces like the Chase banking app exemplifies effortless understanding. The app’s icons are simple, intuitive and placed within a grid that’s easy to navigate. This design simplicity reduces the learning curve for new users and enhances usability for account transfers, paying bills and checking balances. The intuitive design of these interfaces persuades users to engage more deeply with the app, fostering brand loyalty.

London Underground: Effective design in public signage, such as airport signs or subway maps, can significantly impact how easily people navigate complex spaces. For example, the London Underground map is celebrated for its clear and logical layout that abstracts the actual geographic locations of stations to present a simplified, easily navigable view of the subway system. This design helps millions of commuters and tourists navigate one of the world’s most complex transit systems with relative ease, demonstrating how design can facilitate effortless understanding in public spaces.

OXO Kitchen Tools: OXO revolutionized kitchen tools by focusing on features, such ergonomic handles, that make the products more comfortable and easier to use for as many people as possible, including those with arthritis. Their visually appealing design, combined with practical functionality, make OXO products stand out in the crowded kitchenware market.

“Citibank had to grapple with a costly software design error that mistakenly sent nearly $1 billion in loan payments instead of the intended $7.8 million.”

By prioritizing the user’s experience and making complex systems easy to understand and navigate, design not only enhances functionality but also subtly persuades and influences behavior, embodying the “effortless understanding” that Andy Cowles describes.

By contrast, poor design can have a significant negative impact on a company’s financial health, often resulting in decreased customer engagement, lost sales and a tarnished brand reputation. For example, ScheinerInc. previously discussed how Citibank had to grapple with a costly software design error that mistakenly sent nearly $1 billion in loan payments instead of the intended $7.8 million.

Other examples include:

Overly Complicated PowerPoint Presentations: A PowerPoint presentation that is cluttered with text and confusing graphics and lacks a clear message can lead to lost engagement among its audience. In a business setting, this could mean the failure to secure a vital deal or investment because the presentation failed to communicate the value proposition effectively. The financial repercussions can include lost revenue opportunities and wasted resources on ineffective marketing or sales pitches.

Poorly Designed Subscription Forms: A subscription form on a website that is overly complicated, asks for too much unnecessary information, or is visually unappealing can significantly reduce conversion rates. Users are likely to abandon the form if they find it too cumbersome or invasive, directly impacting a company’s ability to grow its customer base or email list. This reduction in potential leads and customers can translate into direct financial losses and increased customer acquisition costs.

Inefficient User Interfaces: A website or application with a poorly designed user interface that makes navigation difficult or unintuitive can frustrate users, leading to high bounce rates and low user engagement. For e-commerce sites, this can directly result in abandoned shopping carts and lost sales. The cost of redesigning the website or application, combined with the lost revenue, can be substantial for a business.

Unresponsive Website Design: In an era where mobile browsing surpasses desktop browsing, a website that is not optimized for mobile devices can alienate a significant portion of potential customers. An unresponsive design can lead to difficult navigation, improperly displayed content and slow loading times on mobile devices, all of which discourage engagement and purchases. The financial impact includes not only lost immediate sales but also long-term damage to the brand’s reputation among mobile users.

Confusing Checkout Processes: An online checkout process that is not straightforward, requires too many steps, or lacks clear instructions can frustrate customers to the point of abandoning their purchases. This directly affects a company’s conversion rate and revenue. In addition, the cost of acquiring a customer, only to lose them at the final purchase stage, represents a significant inefficiency and financial drain.

These examples highlight the critical importance of good design in ensuring positive customer experiences and the direct correlation between design choices and a company’s financial performance. Investing in user-friendly, intuitive design is not merely an aesthetic consideration but a strategic financial decision that can significantly influence a company’s bottom line.

While adhering to good design principles remains crucial, the key—and often neglected—aspect is viewing design through the lens of the audience’s perspective, embodying Mr. Cowles’ insights and achieving “Aesthetics of Persuasion.”

Questions? Feel free to email me here. As always, thank you for reading.

Photo by Arisa Chattasa on Unsplash