• Akshayta Rao

Design is an investment, not a tool

Imagine you fall sick and visit the doctor for a checkup. He investigates the situation and prescribes a medicine. Now when it’s time for you to pay him, do you ask why he’s charging a thousand bucks instead of 850? Do you request him to revise his pay structure because you don’t fully ‘understand his costs’? Of course, you don’t! Mainly because you’re not crazy and also for the fact that the man just saved your life. He also probably saved you from a really expensive surgery in the near future. He deserves the amount he demands because how do you really put a price on health?

Now, as a designer, almost every single time that I have quoted a price to a client for saving his business from poor usability, I get asked to ‘revise my price’. I admit I’m no medical genius, but I am definitely improving the health of his company and saving him from huge losses if his users don’t enjoy the experience. Metaphorically, I am preventing a really expensive surgery a.k.a. rebranding exercise in the future. ‘So how do clients put a price on the health of a company?' you ask. They don’t. They just go with the cheapest designer because,

  1. They never really accounted for a ‘design’ budget during inception.

  2. They don’t fully understand what design does, so they value it in terms of its monetary investment.

And this exactly what drives businesses into inevitable redundancy. Design is treated as a tool, an afterthought, something ‘cool’ that everyone seems to be doing so they must too. What they don’t realize is that an investment made in design once reaps benefits for eternity. If that statement sounds untrue, consider this “Every dollar invested in user experience yields a return between $2 and $100.”

As designers, it really ticks us off when we notice how badly companies need design, yet how little they are willing to invest in it. Every business that does not incorporate design thinking at the very core of its system is destined to be mediocre. Thinking like designers is known to pull companies out of bankruptcy, just ask Airbnb’s co-founders Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky.

In 2009, when the company’s revenues flatlined, the founders detected a pattern in consumer behavior. Properties with poor quality images (ideally taken from a smartphone) were often rejected. The team then flew to New York, rented an expensive camera and clicked a few professional shots of the listings. Even though there wasn't any data to back this decision, a week later, the results showed that improving the pictures almost doubled the weekly revenue. The company knew it was on to something and started conducting similar out-of-the-box exercises at regular intervals to better their business.

As part of their on-boarding process, they empowered new hires to come up with wacky ideas that they would briefly test and if those worked, they would scale higher and higher. The ‘wishlist’ feature on the app was an outcome of this exercise. The symbol to wishlist a property on Airbnb was originally a star, but one of the new kids pointed out that a heart is more personal, and so they tested it. Sure enough, this simple change increased customer engagement by 30%. These random activities conducted by Airbnb are nothing but aspects of design thinking – a method for the practical, creative resolution of problems using the strategies designers use while designing.

Fortunately, by virtue of such success stories, design is slowly but surely becoming a necessity for all kinds of businesses. The conversation is moving from ‘why should I pay for design?’ to ‘what should I pay for design?’ and for that, designers all over the world are thankful. But every once in a while, we encounter a client who wants to pay us in experience and not cash because good design is too expensive for his business. And when such encounters happen, all we can do is sit back, nod our heads, smile and silently wish we were doctors.


About Me

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Welcome to Tryst with Design. This blog has added immense value to my life, and I love having the opportunity to share my musings with you. Read on, and enjoy.