The Value of Research and Design


What is the value of spending time and money doing informed research and design work? Well … would you like to make more money? Have bigger impacts? Create delightful outcomes? Of course you do.


Matt: I Actually don't get out of bed for one

Matthew: Okay, how about two?

Matthew: Actually reading, something by our close personal friend, what's his name?

Matt: Ah, we have so many Narrow it down.

Matthew: Oh, I feel bad, I'm totally blanking on his name, Dave um

Matt: Dave

Matthew: Oh my god.

Matt: How do I know him?

Matthew: Everyone knows Dave.

Matt: Ha, Dave the guy from IXDA?

Matthew: Yeah

Matt: Dave, ah

Matthew: Oh man I feel terrible.

Matt: Dude don't, don't record this.

Matthew: This is the intro, Dave ah, seven minutes of us just going. You know, you know Dave ah

Matt: And he's from Long Island and I can't, I'm blanking on his last name.

Matthew: Designs stuff--

Matt: Beard

Matthew: Beard

Matt: Dark Hair, yeah

Matthew: Loves Detroit style pizza

Matt: Yeah Dave, hang on

Matthew: Goodness

Matt: This is terrible, we're such bad friends

Matthew: What is his last name?

Matt: And now I'm looking at LinkedIn and I'm being completely distracted by a--Maloof, whew

Matthew: Maloof, there we go. Whoa, thank you

Matt: Ah yeah, sorry Dave

Matthew: It'll just be us going Dave and then technical difficulties Maloof, there we go

Matthew: There it is, anyway, so I was reading something by Dave Maloof earlier today about his frustration with the adoption of design ops. And I'll just say thinking not in the design thinking way, Hm but like, from a strategy perspective right. And part of his, I don't want to say recrimination, but because apparently small words don't work in this case. Is that, you know, what he's seeing is people are like, Well, how do we fit into agile again, instead of being like okay, this is really more about strategic thinking, and planning. And I think, again, the leap that is not being made, either by the practitioners, by enough practitioners, I should say, or by the business side is really not understanding or believing in or thinking about, I don't know what it is, it's probably a combination thereof. The value and the business impact of and I say these with lowercase letters, design thinking, like thinking from a design perspective. I'm still unsure about, like, what would cause broad adoption of it. The post by Dave, which I can link to, and I also saw an article about, again, can't remember his name, but he's leaving IKEA to start a design firm, to teach people to lead with design. And he, his premise is design will supplant marketing. They'll sell themselves, because they're so well designed. I don't think you're really, you'll, you won't get rid of marketing, but maybe marketing will be used for, you know, actual marketing, rather than whatever it's used for today, which is to gloss over how poorly designed things are, within this topic of the business value of design work. Design thinking, again, lowercase letters, right now we can't talk about it enough, basically.

Matt: I haven't read that article, so I don't have an opinion on it.

Matthew: Well, go ahead and read that article now...I'll wait.

Matt: Pause the film

Matthew: Cue music

Matt: Now I'm still, I still struggle with anything that has ops after it because I start to hear that and I kind of check out as like, this is just another lingo, land grab that someone has come up with.

Matthew: Yeah.

Matt: Like how is design ops different from design thinking versus user centered design versus any other methods that we've been doing for, you know, 15, 20 years. And there are nuances with design thinking, I get that. But at the end, it's very much what we've been preaching for a long time.

Matthew: Right, and--

Matt:  When you put the user at the center of the cycle, iterate often, test, iterate, explore, you know the same.

Matthew: Right, the challenge has been and continues to be, especially in the digital space. It's just so cheap to guess, and hope you're right.

Matt: Mhm

Matthew: It's so cheap to not talk to people.

Matt: Yep

Matthew: Just to build something and put it out there.

Matt: That's always been the case. Like design ops isn't doing anything to remedy that, is it? I don't need to poo poo design ops or pick on anybody.

Matthew: Yeah I don't, I think--

Matt: I don't get the value that design ops is bringing.

Matthew: Yeah, I think conceptually, that's what it wants to do. It's set up a, the same with the whole research ops and you know, setting up environments so that good design work can happen right, and to me, that's not necessarily strategic stuff, necessarily.

Matt: No, it's not, but it's, it's promoting the same environments that we've been promoting for a long time. With just a new name, which is cool, you know. If the new name helps it gain traction, that's great for everyone not gonna deny that. Have a hard time getting behind the terminology, just as a new term , just for the sake of being new. But all for it, go Dave, go design ops.

Matthew: I don't, I think until we stop talking about, is this wrong to say? Stop talking about design and start talking about business.

Matt: Heh

Matthew: We're not going to have as much of an impact.

Matt: And I feel like all of these things that keep coming up over time design ops, design thinking, in my experience it has to come from the top regardless. So again, think about business, and the business has to want it versus the practitioners see a need for it more for larger organizations that they are just on their path. They've been doing it one way, things are generally okay.

Matthew: We're making money, why would we mess with that?

Matt: Right, I was just talking to a friend last week about this. He's doing work with a large organization, and they just have no concept of any of these things. But now they're getting competition, And I was telling him like, well that's something that can instigate a change in process and culture.

Matthew: Right.

Matt: Is competition, because a lot of companies they're just keep on keeping on. And they don't even realize what they don't know, because they've been doing it the same way for 10, 15 years. I'm talking about from a design standpoint, a UX standpoint.

Matthew: Yeah. 

Matt: And until someone comes in and shows them a different way, that's one step. But then you have to show them why it matters, and why they should be doing differently, because someone's going to take them over, someone's taking their money. Usually it comes down to money.

Matthew: Right, whether it's competition is finally coming along into a space that you've dominated for a while. Or I think the other side of money that personally, I wish more people would talk about, is the money that gets wasted,

Matt: Mhm

Mattew: because a process or product or service is not as efficient, effective as it could be. Right?

Matt: Yup, I agree. The hidden costs.

Matthew: The hidden costs, which are easy to unhide, if you go looking for them. Right?

Matt: Right. Do you have any examples of this?

Matthew: I, I have an example did just to mind. But this is, this is the thing, it's like, I think this is a good example of not just reducing waste makes more money, or you you lose less money, but also demonstrating that value, right? Hey, we, we pulled this design lever and this thing happened, and you made more money, or you wasted less money or whatever.

Matt: Right.

Matthew: Several months ago, I was on a project, I feel like this example fits both the, it helped with reducing waste so saving money, and it demonstrated that value, because we did this project. And it led to an outcome that was measurable and positive for the company. And it was very easy, well not easy easy, but it was very easy to say we did this project, and we can tie it directly to this outcome. And here sea level people, here's the good stuff that we just did. And it was designed, you know, it was designed thinking. I gotta think of a different word for that, because like, every time I say design thinking I'm like, it wasn't really like the capital D Capital T thing, I digress. So we actually brought in to do this project, a usability testing on a product that was about to go live, that they were building internally. Should I start completely over?

Matt: No, Oh god That's what editing is for.

Matthew: That's right. The usability testing project lead to this next project where we went, and we interviewed all the people who were working for this company. Who are using the app, the entire process was, I don't walk in as an expert on what that company is doing. But very quickly into the interview process, I can see Oh, basically, you know, things start with this person and then go to this person and then back to this person, then-- why do you do it that way? Their answer was well, I mean, that's that's how we were trained. It's not how we want to do it, we think we should do it this way. And that's what I love about, you know, going out interviewing people is, they don't always have the answer. But often, they're finding ways to work around poorly designed products and services, to get their job done. So they've figured out ways to reduce waste, right. And so talking with them, led to a big redesign of this application that they just spent months doing. Because they were launching a new version of this internal app they'd been working on like 15 years or something. To really design the interface to this application and the process through which all the work is done, such that only the information that is necessary for each stage of the work is presented to the person doing the work at that stage. And the rest of it becomes ancillary. Previously it was stage one through stage 17. I'm kinda summarizing how it works. If you do work on stage three, you have to go through one and two to get to three. Doesn't take that long, but it's stuff that gets in your way. And with this company the more work that they can do in a day, in a week, in a month you know, the more money they can make. By optimizing this process that they had, we were able to increase the amount of work they did by 30 percent. And so for a company that has, and this is their napkin math, as we talked after the project had ended. After a month or two. A company that makes 30 million dollars in revenue, 30 percent is an extra 10 million in revenue every year. That's not gonna be the exact number but you know that's roughly what they were looking at. They were hoping with this new app that they might get 10 percent increase but it also lead to a reduction in errors. Because one of the things that really slowed things down was having to send work back, up the line as it were, to be redone. It wasn't just let's fix this interface, it was let's fix this process that the interface is used to run through. We'll reduce errors along the way. So it's an easy way to then illustrate, not even illustrate, to show directly to the people who run the company. You know, here we spent three weeks saying, stop everything, not literally everything but let's stop and really investigate this and come up with a plan for moving forward. And this is the result, you're potentially making 10 million extra in revenue every year, because you spent three weeks on really investigating this from a design perspective. That has to have some value, right?

Matt: You'd think so?

Matthew: Even beyond the the extra 10 million a year.

Matt: Right, because a lot of times for you, we're talking about is process efficiency, improvement process within the application.

Matthew: Mhm

Matt: which like we were talking about earlier, it's I think a lot of companies they do, just get complacent with their process, with their software, and the organizations. And like you said, that even employees kind of knew of a better way, but that's just the way they were trained. So that's just what they were doing. And no one was really challenging anyone to make that a better process, so kudos for you

Matthew: Well, I mean, kudos for them or--

Matt: Well you uncovered--

Matthew: Yeah.

Matt: And designed the better solution. And yes, sometimes the clients get it. I had one that came to me, this is a couple years ago, so I don't quite remember all the details. But they were looking for process improvements in their software, they had a Salesforce integration. And it was a very convoluted process. And they came to me and said, Hey, can you work on this? Can you help us and like you, I interviewed all the different employees that touch this process, this flow, and I found out they had one person, a full time employee whose whole job was to handle exception cases and fix errors because of this flow, and that was their job. I don't remember their title. But when I talked to her, that's what she did when she came into the morning, until she left at the end of the day. And are, we, I've talked to all these people. I've created a new flow for them, redesigned it to streamline a fewer pages, and just, just thought out the experience a lot better. And they didn't, I won't say they didn't need her anymore,

Matthew: Right.

Matt: but they basically took her from a full time or that role at need, went from a full time position, just being something that they handled as needed.

Matthew: Mhm

Matt: Here and there, you know, maybe 10, 15 minutes a day, versus a full time employee. That wasn't the goal of the project, it was really just to broadly make it more efficient. But that was an end result that, like you're saying it, it wasn't millions of dollars, but in one person's salary, or 90% of a salary.

Matthew: Right?

Matt: It's not insignificant. So yeah, it goes back to it's not only revenue that's coming in from a money perspective, but savings from not wasting money.

Matthew: Right.

Matt:  Which is also beneficial to the business.

Matthew: I think about like, as businesses grow, and they add new capabilities to their offering, whether it's a product or service, or both, you know, they add new features to their product or whatever. So often these are added, as if they're standalone things that don't impact anything else, Right?

Matt: Yup.

Matthew: And so over time, Now they have this thing, that it works but no one then says, Hey you know, let's, look systematically at this entire thing and, and really see, Oh, we don't need these things. Because this does 80 percent of the work up here. And let's just optimize that and get rid of this stuff. And now we have less stuff to manage and--

Matt: And that's, you know we talk about about prioritizing cost, and a lot of businesses don't want to invest that cost to find out how they can save more down the road, they look at the near term, oh we have to hire a team or someone to do this research and analysis and help us with the strategy. And that does cost some money up front. But they don't see the long term goal. The long term financial gain, I should say. And that's why a lot of companies I believe are just, you know, complacent, they get stuck because it's good enough. They're not focused on making things better. They're focused on keeping the lights on and keeping things churning.

Matthew: So What have been some ways that you've been able to show that value beyond the example that you just gave, that I just gave to get people to even start thinking about this?

Matt: To just, kind of scratch that surface, is doing evaluations. Excited evaluations, more app, whatever it is evaluations. So you'll hear some areas that I see opportunities for improvement, Let's go talk to some users, and you just kind of build a case that way. It's hard without knowing their business really well to show financial gains, theoretical future gains 'cause you're not quite sure but usually a savvy business person can start to extrapolate. Alright, well, I see this, this is going to make this more efficient, and kind of the domino effect. So I feel like it's a conversation on selling research in general. And what are good ways to do that. You and I've done a lot of work on discovery workshops, where we kind of just go in and we just start sharing ideas and gathering information from the business and saying okay, there's opportunities here, based on just what we've heard in this first meeting. It was really getting them to think about things beyond the day to day.

Matthew: Yeah, it's been the same for me. Almost always starting the conversation at that high level is not going to resonate. The metaphor I rely on for this is, it's really difficult for people to get past the fire dujour

Matt: Mhm

Matthew: And If you can get them past that, then you can have that conversation of, Oh well, this got on fire because of these decisions you either made or didn't make way upstream. Let's talk about how we can fix that

Matt: It's getting them to just stop, like you said, like stop focusing on the fires. Start thinking about ways that there are opportunities to make things better. And they just have to stop and open their eyes sometimes and be open minded, because like I said, when they're in that churn, and there's just day to day putting out fires and do today what we did yesterday, because it's working. Those are the hardest people to get through to because there's not focused on improvements.

Matthew: Yeah, so that's usually my way into those conversations, is that, doing some evaluation or, or even potentially some research that's somewhat generative. If, if they're at that level of maturity within the organization, At its core, it's just getting out and talking to people right? Not completely randomly, not you know, intercepts on the street of, Hey do you use my product, let's talk. Not that there's anything wrong with that but you know, having a plan and going out and talking to people, and then bringing that information back and really thinking about it, and then maybe going out and talking to more people.

Matt: I was just talking to a customer of mine a few weeks ago, I guess I did some research for them. They were telling me how they were meeting with their partners, business partners, and some of their higher level stakeholders, and they were having some tough conversations about changes to the app, changes to their strategy. They basically used my research as ammunition to justify the changes they were making. And so they were really excited because they could take all those quotes that we gathered from talking to people, like you were saying, because those seem to resonate a lot with those people in the big offices. And when they were challenging the design team, they can say well, we talked to people. And here's what we heard. And this actual feedback from from users. Like I said, that was ammunition that was critical and useful for them to get their ideas through. So--

Matthew: Yeah

Matt: a little bit different context from starting from scratch, but just the idea of you get those, like you said, talking people on the street, randoms even if you have, to do anything that can kind of help weed some credibility to, you know, the changes that you're advocating for?

Matthew: Excuse me, do you have a pulse? Good time to give me feedback.

Matt: Oh, it's about to get higher.

Matthew: That's right, one way or the other, you're either gonna get very happy or very angry.

Matthew: That, that voice of the customer really does resonate with the people in the big offices, like you say. What I find also interesting is that then doesn't make them say, or a lot, a lot of them not all of them, obviously. But it doesn't make a lot of them say, Oh, we should be doing this more often. And more of it, and then it makes me think of the companies that don't do it at all.

Matt: Right,Right.

Matthew: That have a CEO or someone who say, and I've said this before, but I think of one particular case where the CEO was very fond of saying, well, I've thought this through. The people doing the research, say well, here's you know, the voice of the customer says this, and the CEO's like well, that may be fine, but I've thought it through. So we're going to do it my way. That company ended up getting bought by another company. Because the second company said hey, that's a very pretty application you've got that does some amazing things we think. And they spent, you know, a few million dollars buying the company, and then attempting to integrate it into their own systems. And it was so poorly put together and so poorly thought through that they had to scrap it all and get rid of the people that they had brought over. And it was just, I don't know how many millions of dollars were wasted. Many is my guess. If that CEO had just been open to listening to what the customers were saying that might have had a better outcome for both companies.

Matt: For sure.

Matthew: I'm sure the CEO got his exit, and did pretty well. But it's not, it's not the kind of exit that I would want. Personally.

Matt: We don't look fondly upon--

Matthew: I do not and never have. And when I see him at the cafes, I'm like you sir.

Matt: When you see him in a cafe, you say I'll have a tall latte.

Matthew: That's right. Because he's working there Because he's working there And no, he probably owns the place.

Matt: Yeah, bastard

Matthew: And well you know, and that's, that's kind of the thing. It's like, this ends up working out for a handful of people. And so--

Matt: I know.

Matthew: And so it's like, oh, what's the incentive? I just made, you know, 10 million dollars exiting this company that I sold, that I didn't talk to a single user. And not that, that is the norm, but everyone acts like it is the norm. It's weird, people are weird.

Matt: That's my new business plan.

Matthew: What's your new business plan?

Matt: Create a crappy application and get bought. Not that it's a new idea but,

Matthew: Sold, I love it, I'll buy it.

Matt: Win, Win

Matthew: Fastest exit ever.

Matt: Beautiful

Matthew: I will pay you to stop that idea.

Matt: That's right.

Matthew: So I think what we're saying is, Matt if I may summarize

-Matt: Mm please.

Matthew: Leave your office and go talk to people.

Matt: That should be the tagline of this whole channel.

Matthew: Yes, just please go talk to people.

Matt: You gotta talk to people, Yeah. 

Matthew: Don't lead them, but you know 

Matt: Don't delete them?

Matthew: No, don't lead them yes. The back of my mind fears when I say go talk to people is you know like, Oh okay, hey if I made an app that made your life better, would that make your life better? Oh, it would? Okay, I'll make that.

Matt: I think that's a whole other episode for our show.

Matthew: How to actually talk to people.

Matt: Yep, or people like ourselves, we sometimes need a refresher.

Matthew: For sure, it's a skill. Skills are meant to be practiced so--

Matt: That's right.

Matthew: Come on, all right. Well, let's call it

Matt: All right, good chat.

Matthew: Good chat.

Matt: See you next time.

Matthew: Peace out yo.

Matt: All right, good show people, good show.

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