Sometimes, you just need to ring the cash register. For some design work, designers can succeed despite being insulated from the real metrics of their output. This is expected, because it’s nearly impossible to measure the value of a new icon, brand identity, or even deep feature work. Did adding a tagging system for blog posts on the admin panel lift overall subscriptions? No one can know on any reasonable time scale or without considerable analysis. This ironically aligns with the impulse designers often have to “just create something beautiful that helps people.” No need to measure or question; it’s an inherent good.
When a project’s primary aim is sell something, designers often turn up their noses as if this is beneath them. I used to work on a team tasked with increasing the lifetime value of customers. In other words, “get people to buy more stuff from us.” A fellow designer sardonically put it that “non-revenue” designers think we’re “creatures from the black lagoon,” since we were the team seen as cluttering up a pristine interface that didn’t bother the user about new things they could buy.
The best long-term argument for designers making CEO-level business decisions is that design facilitates transactions between customers and vendors. If designers start articulating this point and delivering those results business folks, those business folks who decide roadmaps will entrust designers when we ask for a few more days to get an animation just right. The engineer will have to listen when we ask them to push that icon down two pixels. In short, if we deliver on the bottom line, the results from our craft will have proven their worth.
In Mike Monteiro’s talks, he blatantly admits that designs exist to make. He is upfront that he must assess the business value of each of his designers along with their pure craftsmanship. This means selling designs to their clients, making sure their designs helps their clients sell more, and selling their agency to new clients.
The best designers generate revenue because, quite literally, the owners of the business (public shareholders, investors, or founders) decide where to funnel money so that it comes back to them bigger than before.
Profit-oriented design is sustainable, enduring design. Unprofitable design is a short-lived hobby. How many times have you fallen in love with a product, only for the company behind it to fold, or get acquired and killed? Or, the product became transfigured beyond recognition, or its leaders depart for something new and its values—the values that drew you to—became corrupted? Almost always, it’s because the product failed to meet business objectives, and the owners had to go another route for financial solvency, besides beautiful design.
Designers should carry realism alongside their customer-advocacy when making products. Take pride in lifting business metrics, especially ones with dollar figures. If it helps, divide the amount of profit you created by an engineer’s salary, and tell yourself you earned the company that many more engineers to implement your designs. But, at the very least, avoid judging the seemingly slimy sales-focused designs without considering the business goals embedded within.
Impactful design comes with a large price tag. It’s an investment that must pay dividends. Are you worth your salary in the eyes of the people who pay it?