Did it just get easier to measure design business value?

Dr John Knight
5 min readAug 10, 2021

It’s hard to put design at the front of development
Recent debates within the UX, UI and Service Design communities have highlighted often compromised state of the digital design profession. In these discussions designers stewardship of the experience is seen as hard job to do when faced by the expedience of agile and the focus on instrumental values (e.g. cost, profit & financial benefit) of Lean. While the arguments over the direction of digital design continue, let’s focus on practical ways to rebalance product development methodologies toward a more holistic set of attributes comprising accessibility, usability, engagement and reward. The Experience wheel is one way of helping to rebalance bottom line with design value.

The lack of such an all-encompassing, mapping of experience quality is a problem. Designers concerns on the quality of the experience, the need for accessibility and to deliver value-adding improvements are often marginalised in favour of small, technically expedient tweaks as I found in the I conducted a couple of years back — Go with the Flow-Accelerated Digital Design in the age of Post-agility. Stakeholders, product owners and developers have an advantage in being closer to value realisation (through releasing increments) and business benefits (features and service releases) that what is often seen as designer’s job of colour in. Of course, we know that’s not the reality, but the business value of design is often hard to articulate and land — when everyone else is building out and getting stuff out the door.

However, development focus on features is often at the expense the needs of the people using the stuff that’s made. It can mean that projects are created without accounting for the full set of user (human) needs, even when experience goals (e.g. SEQ scores) are they can often fail to be reconciled after go-live. The instrumental drive is often submerged or put aside in KPIs, business cases and the like, all of which drive a specific product or service direction that can be at the odds of the people using (and developing) the new thing. If not submerged then debate over product and service direction rage in sprint planning, resurface in research and slow velocity in rework as different stakeholder views play out in strategy, design and development driven rework. If we all agreed more, earlier and inclusively, stuff would be better quality, delivered quicker and teams might be happier.

Holistic goals deliver better products and services
A simple, holistic, scalable framework that can be used by teams at every stage of the product and service lifecycle would alleviate these problems. Experience goals can easily be set, and if necessary operationalised through KPIs, teams can check back during design and development to make sure the experience matches the vision, analytics and user research can measure predicted and actual experience quality and any organisation can adopt the framework and use it to align their activities to human-centred design metrics.

How the framework evolved
A few years back, I tried to crack this problem through an Experience Design Framework (EDF). Publishing the first version in 2004, I wanted a mandala that would, in one single frame, define all the elements of experience and the means to design it — based on human-centred design principles and methods. Early iterations of the framework, centred on interaction and barriers to HCD adoption. These were early days, when usability was still a buzzword and the first iPhone and Android OS years away. That first paper noted ‘The authors thus set about identifying a set of user-centred methods that would be cost effective, flexible enough to apply to any design lifecycle and, most importantly would be useful and relevant to the needs of the designer.’ Presenting the early version at the Design Research Conference with my colleague Marie, spurred us to iterate the framework and continue findings ways to help drive HCD. 15 years later, today, things are significantly different. HCD has matured into a business-critical practice, design thinking as entered into the lean, entrepreneurial culture of our time and the importance of the quality of experience a given in any digitally mature or transforming organisation. That said, there is still some way to go to fully account for the broad range and interconnectedness of experience qualities that span accessibility, usability, reward and engagement.

A new solution to accounting for quality
Evolving EDF into a practical, principled and scalable tool for teams to assess the potential and actual quality in use of a product or service has taken some time. Now the framework includes the four core quality areas as before, butaugmented with consistent and more granular quality criteria. For example, usability now contains the three quality attributes defined in the ISO standards of effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction. This new iteration of the framework helps in design decisioning and organisational transformation through experience-led product and service goal-setting, in-flight evaluation and in-life validation through mapping user experience quality on an Experience Blueprint.

The expeirence wheel

The power of the newly named Experience Wheel — it structures and anchors discussions about the potential quality of solutions in a holistic manner. It also helps to substantiate and underpin data from research and analytics in order to give a balanced and comprehensive map of experience quality. In other words, this scalable framework helps in practical design decisioning as well as supporting organisation’s adoption of HCD driven experience design — whether that pertains to product, service or experience.

A practical tool to help designers and developers

Here’s 3 ways you can use the wheel:

Plotting expected experience metrics with teams to drive a holistic approach to quality in project initiation by setting experience KPIs and mapping them to the wheel

Using the wheel in ideation to assess different options, alternatives and trade-offs by plotting them on the wheel’s centre

Using the wheel to capture test data after go-live at regular intervals to demonstrate quality improvements

I’d love to know how you’ve used the wheel, get intouch @worldok_ or via my Aalto University of Arts, Design and Architecture profile

John Knight,©2021, Aalto University of Arts, Design and Architecture

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Dr John Knight

Entirely personal views on #DesignScience #Ergonomie #NewWaveUX Making sketchy futurstic stuff with paper, pencils, humans and binary since 1964 PhD @aaltoARTS