User Experience Design Blog

Commentary on strategy and design of interactive products.

UX Design and Business

October 27th, 2011 by Kimmy Paluch

A few months ago, I received an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management. As a UX designer, it seemed a strange choice to many I spoke to about the decision, but I’ve been a long-believer in the convergence of design and business. Furthermore, the need for collaboration between all the roles in the product development cycle has been a recurring theme both on this blog and in the wider community. Collaboration is greatly improved with mutual understanding, and thus the MBA serves as a great linkage between an engineering and design background to the business disciplines, including product strategy, marketing, and business management.

Signs of Convergence

Evidence of the mingling of design and business abounds. The convergence can be either very concrete, such as merged managerial-design roles, or less so through collaboration.

Don Norman, the father of user experience design stated in 2008 that UX professionals need to “learn to speak the language of business,” including using numbers to sell  ideas. In his 1998 keynote address to the Human Factors society, he mentioned that “four equal legs [of product development] are required for good product design, all sitting on the foundation of the business case.” In a Nielsen Norman Group report, Norman gets into either further detail by describing the organizational design that supports these principles of effective product development and collaboration. It has been a common drawback of each of the elements of product development to struggle for power and overlook the essential contributions of each “leg.” A recent article from this year at UXMatters nicely addresses the issues of power vs collaboration for the UX leader.

Obviously one of the big companies that has highlighted the integral importance of design in business is that of Apple. In 2005, in the wake of the iPod’s success, Bill Breen of Fast Company wrote about the Business of Design and the “design-based economy,” which has clearly gained even more momentum over the past decade. Design and business complement each other in so many ways that the field of  ‘Business Design’ is spreading in schools and companies alike, most notable of the latter is human-centered innovation consulting firm, IDEO.

What the MBA provides

Beyond a broader perspective to apply the user-centered approach, I have gained a better understanding of cost-benefit analysis, marketing process, techniques, and goals, competitive strategy, organizational dynamics, team building and incentives, and executive managerial issues. These fundamentals allow me to think beyond delighting users now, and thinking about long-term success for the company and the user alike. Compromises in the development cycle are necessary and it’s making the right compromises that can make or break a company or product. Furthermore effective collaboration across disciplines requires understanding each side with an appreciation for what each brings. Irreconcilable differences that can often happen between marketing, engineering and designers can end up surfacing in a product’s experience.

The more strategically we can think as designers, the more effective our recommendations can be within the businesses in which we work, and as a result the better the final experience can be.

Please share your comments and other articles on this issue as I’m constantly trying to track the convergence/intermingling of these disciplines.



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