How to get your digital agency working on results-focused design

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As clients set ever-tougher objectives to judge the effectiveness of their digital properties, agencies need to constantly revise their strategies to ensure that they can meet and exceed the expectations to retain these relationships.

It is easy to focus on results at the end of the development process — pull some reports and produce the odd insight to justify the budget the client spends on analytics — but it’s a whole lot harder to design and develop with results in mind right from the beginning.

Traditionally, designers receive the brief for a new website, meet with the client and immerse themselves in previous campaigns, brand guidelines and assets. What they don’t do so well is cut through the muddle of documentation, meetings and deadlines to visualize the crucial point where the client’s marketing problem meets the consumer’s need. Identifying that almost intangible nugget of information allows one to design with results as a focus.

So what is the difference between goal-driven design and this new trend of results-focused design?

A goal-orientated design plan is concerned with the quickest way to enable the consumer to complete a once-off action on a single page, such as registering for a newsletter or making a purchase. Putting a large red button above the fold might do it, but these simple elements will only ever provide simplistic data.

In contrast, a results-focused design team will take a wider, more holistic view of the entire objectives of all pages of the site. They will plan how the consumer travels through these pages, design reassuringly consistent elements that signpost their progress, produce engaging content, messaging and functionality and know how many repeat visits the consumer make as they are slowly funnelled through the purchasing cycle and brand advocacy.

Results-focused design is ultimately concerned with the effective completion of hundreds of goals that are interconnected, planned and woven into the design and structure of the site. The data produced will output richer results and hopefully some elusive consumer insights that can form the foundation of future digital strategies.

The most interesting output of results-focused design is the slow emergence of iterative design and development in the digital agency world. Unlike software development houses building their business around the production of one or two applications that can be sold many times over, agencies can only sell the websites they produce once. The clients are unlikely to be willing to pay for improvements to a website that should have been perfect at launch. It is often easier to sell a brand new website than motivate for more budget to constantly iterate.

Despite these issues, there are many digital brands that do implement a results-focused, iterative cycle of design and development. Facebook is one brand that invests heavily on constant enhancements; Amazon is another that regularly launches minor iterations which deliver huge returns. Changes to a seemingly inconsequential design detail can radically alter a business, as AirBnB discovered recently. Registered users could add properties they would like to stay in to a wish list. That list had a star as an icon – just by changing this to a heart, their engagement rose by 30%. The simple consumer insight that led them to make this tweak was based on the realisation that a star was generic and a heart aspirational.

These businesses are leaders in their fields because they constantly analyse their results and ask the vital question — why?

So, how do you implement results-focused design in your agency?

1. Embed a strategist in the analytics team
In order for results to lead as a core consideration at the briefing phase, data from previous campaigns must be reviewed by a specialist skilled in understanding consumer needs, psychology and behaviour. Attaching a digital strategist to the analytics team will complement the raw data, figures and patterns reported by data analysts and bridge the insight gap that exists in most agencies.

2. Set aside a percentage of monthly client retainers to fund iterative design
Retainers are generally reserved for maintaining accounts and performing administrative tasks. New design and development projects are almost always quoted on separately. Wouldn’t it be more intuitive to reserve some of the retainer to fund regular iterative work? The client isn’t hit with a truckload of cost estimates and their consumers are rewarded with a better experience every time they return.

3. Rework internal processes to design rapidly
Develop an environment that identifies and executes quick wins. Giving the team the authority to compose a list of daily changes (derived from data and insight) and decide which to action immediately will mean minor design refinements are faster to get in and out of the studio. Scheduling a weekly review with the Creative Director is not iterative.

4. Test the tweaks in a live environment
Be brave. Split test if necessary. Push the changes out into the world and review the results. Change a button colour, revise two words of copy, and review again.

The beauty of digital design and development is that it is almost effortless to modify and improve once the iterative cycle is in place. Making an improvement every week over years through a results-focused design process is more effective in meeting client objectives, time and cost targets, and is of course hugely beneficial to the consumers who are engaging with the website.

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  • http://ivinviljoen.net/ Ivin Viljoen

    Hello Emma. where you mentioned the clients are unwilling to pay for improvements I suggest the following: Instead of quoting a once off price, quote a monthly maintenance fee to include the cost of design and management as well as producing content. Websites are not just about the site itself, but social elements all over the internet that need to be integrated into the digital platform.

    I found your advice of embedding a strategist into the team very useful. We were fortunate enough to have met with a ad/design agency last year and I am thinking of including them into all my future projects.

  • Jonathan Smith

    Digital agency works on result-focused design. All points covered here are really advantageous.

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