Design professionals sometimes find it challenging to assess the business worth of what they do and the ROI of their projects on the direct business needs of their clients. But what are the metrics that both designers and clients can rely on when critically evaluating cutting-edge design projects. The Brandberries has exclusively interviewed Kevin Lee, Executive Director and Vice President of Design at Visa EMEA, on how to leverage design to unlock greater business potential.

BB: What is the value of design for business?

KL: While there are many different perspectives on how one defines the value of design for business, its impact and value can be seen through the iconic brands or user experiences or customer journeys such as the Swiss Army Knife, Uber, Disney theme parks, and Airbnb to name a few.

The business value of design is primarily seen through disruptive and commercial success both in physical as well as digital service. However, another lateral way to view its value is as a creative problem solving tool that helps the company deliver on the brand promise, simplifying complexity and embracing the customer-centric ways of working.

In other words, there is no one universal answer to the value of design for business as its value and impact are highly contextual and situational – which is why discovering and developing the individual design value propositions for your business is critical to your company’s success.

BB: What are the key metrics that can help brands assess the effectiveness of a design project in terms of tangible business results?

KL: Design effectiveness can be best demonstrated by companies who focus on scale. While it is still true that design is still the best business tool to showcases brand value, its impact and effectiveness can quickly diminish and be difficult to sustain.  Overcoming this challenge and delivering design effectiveness often has little to do with designing and delivering innovative or differentiating products or services. Instead, it has everything to do with transforming mindset, investing foundational design practice, and creating equity for partnerships. At Visa, we are constantly assess the impact of design through 5 key focus areas.

First, we continue to refine operating design principles that enable designers to define the persona of design organization in rapidly evolving business landscape. This helps mindset of designers to be less fixated on delivery but more on approach and disciplinary actions for making impactful delivery.

Second, we promote a cultivating culture of making design impacts through rapid prototyping to help the business see what’s possible. This keeps the stakeholder conversation at the core of user experience.

Third, we clarify product value proposition and reframe the problem statement through examining consumers’ experience model in commerce journey. This enables designers to drive experience-led product and business discussion by putting consumers at the heart of every discussion.

Fourth, we relentlessly focus on elevating user experience standards for all of our products and services by investing design systems. This foundational design practice helps demonstrating how making design impact does not necessarily need to be expensive or costly while help us consistently amplify brand experience.

Fifth and finally, we activate co-creation network globally across key cities, countries, and regions and enable designers to craft a type of engagement experience that deepens partnership collaboration. Designers are able to iterate and unify network as a global community, therefore Design effectiveness is being validated by external clients and partners globally.

BB: Two of the terms that design people get frequently confused between are “human-centered design” and “user experience”.  What are the fundamental differences between them?

KL: This is like the statement “all rectangles are squares but not all squares are rectangles.”  Where I’d like to draw a distinction is process of thinking vs. process of designing. In other words, human-centered design is a process or framework that puts human / consumer / customer / user perspectives through the entire design process. HCD is not exclusive to design discipline and is leveraged by non-design organization as innovation tool to promote thinking differently and working differently. On the other hand, user experience is meaningful, useful, and desirable for people, increasing the engagement and satisfaction with brand. At the end though, both human-centered design and user experience are focused on solving problems for people.

BB: One of the key determinants of the business value of design is decisions.  There are business-led decisions and design-led decisions.  Design thinkers have always found it challenging to define the parameters of each.  Please comment.

KL: Business decisions are complex matters as there is not a single decision criteria but multiple factors to consider. What’s important here as design community is to develop a customer-centric culture and to practice influencing and informing how business decision are made, what’s known as design-informed business decision making.

Some business decisions are completely design-led when design is part of the company’s DNA, as evidenced by how they work.  One common trait I find is that there is always a dedicated person in the team explicitly playing the role of customer, and this helps everyone to keep a customer-first attitude from the beginning of each project – rather than making it an afterthought. Most notably, this helps organizations to shift away from a focus on products and services and toward a focus on consumer needs which increase the opportunity for the company to make design-led or customer-led business decisions.