In the past year I had the opportunity to create a new design team inside a 40 year old company. Here are 5 tips that I have learnt so far about selling design.

Isn’t it your job to make things look pretty?

If you work in a company that value’s design in this way, then you might be feeling like its time to take action.

You can either leave to go somewhere that does value design, OR, take an opportunity to raise up Design (capital D) as a strategic function of the business and lead it.

Sure, its not for everyone to pave a new way in an existing company, but if you have read this far then you might be just the type of person to make it happen.

If I could summarize everything below, it would be this:

  • People have to be willing to buy what you are selling
  • Showcase what you can do if you get the chance

Here are 5 ways to sell design in your company

One: Framing and vision

Unless you are willing to differentiate on price, you are going to need to compete with experience. I’ve taken this tip from UX master Jared Spool, and I can tell you that it works. It’s a good ol-fashioned gap analysis.

Create and articulate the following:

  • Here is where we are today
  • Here is where we could be
  • and here is the plan to get there

What does it look like when the company has a differentiated experience that people pay more for? It says in Proverbs 29:18,“Where there is no vision, thepeople perish”. The same can be said for products and companies.

So create that north star and get buy-in from the business. The vision should be difficult to attain but something that people will get excited for.

Then compare that with what you have today. The gap is what you need to design to get there.

Two: Learn how to speak the same language as the rest of the company

To sell the value of design at your company, you need to know the language of your business and I’m not talking about English. Speaking the same language means empathising with other people, and knowing how design will benefit them.

For example what is going to valuable to the CEO?

  • Financial metrics, investments, and return
  • Churn, retention, life time value
  • Enabling behaviours that increase that return

Compared with a Support Manager?

  • The number of support cases
  • How their teams feel each day
  • Customer satisfaction and NPS

You can see straight away that each of these people are measured in different ways, and so is the benefit that design will bring to them.

In your research you might find that for the Support Manager, better design will decrease the amount of support cases logged by customers, and raise NPS.

In turn for the CEO this will lead to lower churn and higher life time value. Or that simply less people will be required in the support team but you probably want to stay away from that one…

Three: Blow your trumpet, just not too loud

Designing solutions and being able to measure the result is crucial. Did your new on-boarding flow decrease abandonment? Did your form optimisation increase sign-ups? Great, now tell as many people as you can.

Extra points for the show the $ amount created by your change.

Once people know you are able to deliver, and can work with them (be humble about it), you can start being in high demand.

Four: Link design directly with strategy

Just like marketing or engineering, good design creates value. Sell design as a system that the C-Suite can understand, and see how it creates value for the business.

For example if one of the company strategies is to increase usage on a product, you can present design that will create a certain type of outcome or advantage over another. Or, an online product might have an issue whereby users drop off after a short amount of time.

The amazing thing about design is that it is also a technical science, so you can measure if what you are doing is converting

So present solutions that will create those outcomes, but also how they can be measured as well.

If what you are doing is converting, and linked to strategy then you have a compelling case for the business.

Five: Under-cover super power

A great tactic and something that I learned from Daniel Burka from Google Ventures, is to listen for problems and create unsolicited designs as solutions to them.

For example, in a meeting somebody might be speaking about low traction on a sign-up form. Take notes and after the meeting go away and design alternatives. (Extra points for a clickable prototype (hello InVision), and being able to link your design choices with validated examples)

When that is done reach out to the person with the problem and show them your designs. With any luck they will be excited that someone has taken the time to help them, and you will be asked to keep working with them.

Is it opportunistic? A little.

But design is like a super-power. We can show people ‘what-if’, and crystallise ideas into visible and usable artefacts without having to spend months coding a solution, or spending money on third party software.

If your intention is to help, and is done with empathy and humility, then I don’t believe that there is anything wrong with it.

And it works.


Source : Mal Sanders via