Designers need to prove their ROI

Originally written as a guest article for InVision’s blog by Jeff Gothelf, Author of Lean UX.

Editor’s note: This is a new column about design leadership. We’ve asked a handful of design leaders to respond to prompts each week. This week’s prompt was “What is the biggest problem in the design industry?”

While design certainly has been recognized as a differentiator of product success (especially with digital products) in many companies today, the investments made in bringing design into the overall strategic conversation have fallen short.

Yes, design is hot. And yes, companies are hiring designers. Yet, find these same designers and ask them what they’re responsible for at work and you’ll hear a familiar and repetitive chorus of “visual mockups,” “wireframes,” “content audits,” and “prototypes.”

Of course these deliverables are the responsibility of designers, but they’re the manifestation of broader product strategies. Much less frequent are the replies of, “I work in a tight strategic collaboration with product management and engineering to determine not only how the product will look/feel/behave, but how that design reflects on our brand and helps us achieve our corporate objectives.”

Apple, Tesla, Netflix, Nest, Airbnb, and others have shown the C-suite that design sells. That hurdle has been crossed.

The piece of that conversation that most executives miss is that bringing in designers to “make it pretty” is an insufficient, superficial gesture.

To counter this, designers need to continuously feedback the ROI of their work to their executives.

“Bringing in designers to ‘make it pretty’ is an insufficient, superficial gesture.”

Collect data — real, numeric, objective data — that shows the impact your work has had on the company’s profits, acquisition costs, retention, and sales numbers. Showcase those numbers in language those executives care about: dollars, cents, utilization, stock price, costs, etc.

Leave the design-centric language — pixels, task completion rates, time on task, etc. — behind. Speak the language of business. The more we as designers do this, the more we drive home the message that a strategy conversation without design present is incomplete.

Want to join the conversation?

Write your own response to the prompt “What’s the biggest issue in the design industry?” on Medium, and submit it to our publication.

Originally published at on February 19, 2016.