Lily Chen — 3 Ways to Show Your Design had Business Impact

Lily is a Product Designer based in San Francisco.
Currently, AngelList. Previously, IBM.

↑ Back

3 Ways to Show Your Design had Business Impact

In a portfolio review, how do you show your interviewer your work was important?

As designers, we’re constantly standing up for our users and measuring our success with higher Net Promoter Scores (NPS), improved usability, and higher engagement metrics. But when you sit down in your next portfolio review for a product design interview and present your work to people outside of those projects, they may not be able to grasp the value of your work. In other words, your interviewer (who may not necessarily be a designer!) might not see how your designs contributed to the overall business objective.

Sure, PMs are usually the ones held accountable for business success metrics. But more and more, teams (especially within startups) are improving their cross-disciplinary literacy so they can all push towards a central goal without language barriers.

To put it another way: being user-centric without acknowledging business needs is like a tennis player exclusively focusing on hitting the ball above the net. Yes, that’s a good part of the game, but are you hitting inside the lines on the other side? Are you hitting it to a strategic area of the court? Are you setting yourself up for the next shot? All of these additional considerations make up a full picture of the product and your interviewer wants to know how you fit in that picture.

Over the past 4 years, I’ve conducted hundreds of product design interviews and, as a result, observed many different strategies that candidates use to showcase themselves and their work. Taking from that experience, here are 3 ways you can demonstrate the business impact of your work in your next portfolio review.

1. Priority in the roadmap

For a lot of designers, the PM is the owner of the roadmap. But regardless of how much say you may have had in establishing the roadmap, great designers still need to understand why this project was prioritized for you to dedicate your time to it.

The typical answer I get to this question often stems from early user findings: “Our customers consistently requested features that already existed in our product so we needed to improve discoverability.”

And while that is good rationale, you can take it huge step further by tracing it back to business goals and where it fit within the overall roadmap: “Our primary objective for that quarter was to reduce churn and one of the lowest hanging fruits was to meet high value needs that actually already existed in the product but suffered from low discoverability. So we prioritized that over building new features.”

Your awareness of a broader reason for the work you’re doing will not only communicate a greater impact but will likely also demonstrate your understanding of the balance between business growth opportunities and customer problems. Many designers don’t move past the user satisfaction piece when I ask the “whys” behind a project and can therefore come across as naive, without realizing that picking your battles can often lead to more progress for your users in the end.

2. Success metrics

In every portfolio review, I ask for success metrics and whether they were moved once the design was implemented. More often than not, candidates will compare the problems identified in formative research with the results gained from summative research near the end of the project.

However, standout candidates drill a level deeper into why successful users in that particular surface area is important to the overall business model. Sometimes, they talk about success metrics like higher conversion or engagement rates, which is already a step in the right direction.

But an even better answer drives it all the way to revenue gains: “Our hypothesis was that higher engagement with this feature contributed to higher conversion rates to our paid plans. So 6 months after shipping my design, we noticed a considerable increase in free users upgrading their plans.”

Of course, this can be difficult depending on the industry and processes of the company you worked in. When I used to design on-premises, enterprise software, I handed over my work and never heard back. Although these cases are challenging, you can acknowledge the lack of a feedback loop and still surmise what the indications of success would have been, which would be more impressive than having nothing at all.

3. Launch strategy

Last big one to mention here is that some of the best designers I’ve interviewed didn’t just end their involvement in a project once engineering had finished building their design. They also valued the way their design was shipped to users.

This is another one that, although the rollout strategy may have been out of your hands (maybe instead coordinated by a mix of product, sales, and marketing), an acknowledgement of why and how it happened will show that your work was thoughtfully delivered to users to ensure the best chance of success.

Often times, many designers present their most recent work that haven’t shipped yet. But when a launch does happen, some of the best answers I hear back start along the lines of: “Due to the amount of surface area this new design was going to impact, we did a phased rollout.”

Being aware of the risks and minimizing them when launching a product is a huge win both as a user-centric designer and a business-minded one. If you have the chance to check in with your team and ask where your work has gone, demonstrating that knowledge can make a huge impression on your interviewer.

Bonus points here too if you can then lead into user adoption strategies.

Get started now

Whether or not you’re looking for a new job, get started on these considerations for your next portfolio review now. There is a lot of information gathering that can become exponentially harder after you wrap up a project or leave a company.

And while this list isn’t exhaustive, it is a set of effective improvements that product designers can make in the way they talk about their work and the way it impacts the product as a whole. Just being aware of these concepts will display a level of experience that junior candidates often lack during interviews and something I regularly screen for in my own interviews.

And once you get into the routine of asking these questions, the mental clarity around these topics should continue to empower you in your everyday tasks.