The Design Process is broken.

And here’s how we can fix it.

I hate to break the bad news, but something we dread about has happened. The process we use to design our products is broken.

I see two reasons for this. We are waging a conflicted battle between two priorities. The first is desire for growth. And the second is need to ensure user satisfaction. On their own, both of them are important concerns and the struggle ensues when there is a conflict between the two.

In this article, I have explained how these two conflicting priorities result from two kinds of approaches to the design process. One that is driven by business needs and another that is driven by user needs. In order to balance the two, I propose a third kind of approach that focuses on core values. This will provide the design process with a beacon that will bring about the much needed balance.

“Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.”

Gordon Gekko in Wall Street

Greed is good

This is a maxim that capitalism runs on. We have seen this being played out daily. In the race to become the next unicorn, every startup makes decisions based on this maxim. And when you look at it, there is some truth to it. When the business needs drive design, we can have extensive KPIs in place and monitor conversion and revenue so closely that the entire design can be optimized to provide maximum value to the promoters, shareholders and maybe even the employees. This looks good.

But more often than not, we see that this greed comes before a fall. Today, Facebook, that was once the poster boy of the Silicon Valley is facing flack for prioritizing design decisions based on a greed of more user engagement and monetizing user privacy through surveillance capitalism.

That need not have been the case. Facebook started on with a stated value to “Connect the world”. However it did not reign in the value. If they had a value statement that said – 

We wish to connect the world so that everybody finds meaning in life

– The whole approach would have been different. If Facebook had stuck to the above value, it would not have been sidelined by unethical ways to get contacts. Sticking to the core value would have stopped Facebook from ignoring privacy and sharing user behavior with suspect advertisers.

“I suspect the functionality and ease-of-use of these devices lead us to become lazy and to lose awareness of ourselves, others and our surroundings.”

Steve Levine

Ease of use is never bad

Now here is something that has been drilled into us at design school. However of late, people are beginning to question this thought.

Seven years after Facebook first introduced it’s friction-less experience, almost all of today’s social media platforms like Snapchat and Twitter, make it trivially easy to broadcast messages to huge audiences. This has been the source of innumerable problems, including foreign influence campaigns, viral misinformation and ethnic violence. YouTube’s most famous frictionless feature — the auto-playing function that starts another video as soon as the previous one has finished — has created a rabbit-hole effect that often leads viewers down a path to increasingly extreme content.

Today, in fact there are editorials that serious ask, Is Tech too easy to use?

Again if we revisit the revised value statement that we had framed for Facebook, as a designer, we would have questioned the benefit of features like this. Unfortunately, user centered design does not have this metric to bind itself.

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

Simon Sinek

Using the values to guide the design

The best way to guide your design is by defining your values and ensuring that you stick to them. This way your entire team and your customers and other stakeholders know WHY you are building your product. And by always keeping this core value, your product why, in sight – the designs you build will be more meaningful. 

Your ideal design will be one where all three goals (business, user and value) are met. However this is not always possible. So this is a guide that you can use to prioritize your design decisions.

How to run a value centered design process.

Now that you know why you need a new design process, let’s see how does one run a Value Centered Design Process.

There are four main stages to running a value centered design process:

  1. Value discovery
  2. Explore strategies
  3. Execute in iterations
  4. Solicit continuous appraisals

This is the Value Centered Design flow diagram that I have shared in my earlier articles.

I will expand on this process in my next article.


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