The key to revenue-generating design systems

Last week, I wrote about why we ought to judge design by how it is used (or not) by real people, rather than how pretty it looks or how much of it there is.

Measure consumption, not production.

Quantity and appearances don't correlate to a better experience for the audience. More pretty stuff doesn’t create more revenue for the business. No matter what industry you operate in, you solve a problem for someone. That someone doesn't want more good looking stuff. They want content and design systems they can use to complete tasks that solve their problem.

This doesn’t mean a design can’t be joyful and a delight to use — it just means that good design never loses sight of audience needs, and the audience's behavior in response to the design is the best evidence of its success.

Why do we measure designers work based on production?

Because it's easy.

It's easy to count things: "We see you made 5 web pages, 6 newsletters, and a new brochure this month. That's more than last month. Good work." 

Gerry McGovern sums it up:

Is it easy to measure use? No. Is it easy to measure ‘customer satisfaction’? Yes. Lazy, ‘cost conscious’ organizations like to find what’s easy to measure and then they manage that. You must decide what is vital to manage and then measure that. In a digital economy, the most vital thing to manage is use.

Most people don’t know how to begin connecting design to business outcomes, and who can blame them?

The grandfather of today’s design practices is perhaps advertising. Before the internet snatched authority from organizations and handed it over to peer networks, advertising was how organizations led people to buy from them. And measuring the effectiveness of advertising wasn’t easy. As the saying goes — “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don't know which half.”

Measuring the outcomes of design is possible — now more than ever.But to measure a design system’s effectiveness, you have to:

  1. Slow down, and do the research. Look at how is your audience is interacting with the product in volume, as well as why they’re interacting in that way. (I’ll talk more about quantitative and qualitative analytics in future letters.)

  2. Use the results of that research to foster a data-driven culture. This is the part where you spread the word about your findings. For example, you start gently asking why everyone is producing content about the latest staff achievement award when 88% of the people are failing in their attempt to complete a donation through your organization’s website.

So, to really gauge the value of a design, an organization has to make a place for research. For design to provide a return on investment, research is not optional.

Now you may be thinking: “There is no way design research can help me in my job or help our company grow.”

Not true, {{ subscriber.first_name }}.

Design research just means understanding the thoughts, desires, and behavior of the people who give you money.

How could that not help your company?

More on research next week.

Have a great weekend,


Kyle Bowen