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

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

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3 Ways to Show Your Design had Business Impact

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 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 the company’s KPIs. 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. And as part of that, great designers know how to solve problems for their users by driving business impact.

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. Explain why your project became a priority

For a lot of designers, the PM is the de facto 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 answer I get to this question is often a summary of early findings from user research. And while that is definitely an acceptable response, you can take it much further by tracing it to business goals and where it fits within the overall roadmap.

Average Answer: “Our customers consistently requested features that already existed in our product so we needed to improve discoverability.”

Outstanding Answer: “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 demonstrate your contributions to the overall product strategy and roadmap, but also an ability to balance between business growth opportunities and customer problems.

2. Tie your design back to business 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 speak about improved usability study results.

However, standout candidates drill a level deeper into how their design impacted the overall business goals. This typically surfaces as acquisition, conversion, monetization, or retention rates.

Average Answer: “In usability tests, participants found the final designs to be far more valuable and easier to understand.”

Outstanding Answer: “Our hypothesis was that higher engagement with this feature contributed to higher conversion rates to our paid plans. So 6 months after shipping this design, we noticed a 40% increase in engagement with this feature and 10% 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 rarely 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. Describe your go-to market strategy

Lastly, the best design candidates understand their involvement in a project doesn’t end once engineering has finished building their design. They also value the way their design is shipped to users.

This is another one that may have been out of your hands and maybe instead coordinated by a mix of product, sales, and marketing. However, you should still understand why and how your work was delivered to the users to ensure the best chance of success.

Average Answer: “We launched on Jan 1, 2020.”

Outstanding Answer: “Due to the amount of surface area this new design was going to impact, we did a phased rollout and kept an eye on user feedback to catch any red flags. We rolled out to all users on Jan 1, 2020.”

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.

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 miss 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 ground your work and identify areas of growth as a product-minded designer. And in your next interview, you will be able to set yourself apart as someone who delivers impactful and meaningful work.