There's a lot of of romance and poetry that goes into experience design: doing contextual research to identify pain points and problems; getting eye-to-eye with users to uncover their needs and stumbling blocks; brainstorming solutions with pals at the old whiteboard; working with developers to design sleek and sumptuous interfaces; crafting easily navigable solutions that are primed to disrupt the status quo; passionately pitching these darlings to wary stakeholders … it’s a tour de force.

UX practitioners certainly have a lot to be proud of, but when we get caught up in the swell of all this excitement, it’s easy to forget the business needs that underpin the work we do. Experience design can be costly, after all, and it’s most often the economic interests of businesses that fuel and fund the creation of experience-driven technologies. Much in the same way that different design teams use different strategies to create solutions that resonate with users, organizations have different approaches when it comes to balancing the creative drive their design teams bring against the business needs of the clients who sign the checks.

For DDB & Tribal Worldwide, Amsterdam, the secret to fostering creativity in their design teams while keeping business goals at the fore comes from a firm belief in what they call “relevant creativity.”

“Relevant creativity is not just about developing powerful communicative ideas, but also about creating a distinctive strategy as well as distinctive tactics and execution in media and technology,” says Ellen van den Berg, Head of UX for the agency. “This conviction can be found in the DNA of every individual colleague—needless to say, the UX team included.”

The design of their app for McDonald’s Netherlands, which won the Design for Experience award for Bottom Line Impact, found the UX team playing a crucial role in translating business needs into an app that was relevant to customers and met their needs.

“In the process of defining the app’s framework, the UX team clearly defined where we could be creative and ‘bend the rules,’ and where we would need to be strict and stick to strategic direction, while bearing usability and technological restrictions in mind.”

According to van den Berg, the app is part of a larger marketing program aimed at building sustainable relationships with customers and servicing them with relevant information and offerings at relevant moments. The app has a clear KPI: bottom-line impact on sales. To reach that goal, their team needed a full understanding of the digital strategy from all client stakeholders involved—not just the marketing department.

The fact that McDonald’s is a franchising business, added extra complexity, as local franchisers have different needs for marketing and sales promotions at different times of day. Aligning the client needs and clearly translating them to business rules was “a challenge and a half,” van den Berg says, especially because the success of the app was hugely dependent on clear client input. The app coincides with McDonald’s carefully regulated marketing calendar, and all of the content to be flexible and customizable, so that external communication from McDonald’s to their consumers is aligned. This move helped established buy-in from the client as well as the consumer. "Together we created an app that is recognized by McDonald’s global as a ‘best practice.’"

Within one week of its launch, the app was downloaded/updated a million times, pushing it to the top spot in the Apple App store and in Google Play (in the Netherlands). More importantly, it brought customers into restaurant, with 2.1% of all McDonald’s customers over a period of 5 weeks using at least one mobile coupon. There was also a 47% increase in “tray value”—upsells for customers using mobile coupons.

Bring the Bottom Line Home … Depot

Customer-facing, in-store computer systems generally have a bad reputation for offering stilted UX, so when SapientNitro was tasked with creating a digital kiosk that would augment the appliance shopping experience in Home Depot stores, they took the opportunity to focus on the importance of physical context within a customer’s journey.

“Often, the false assumption is made that digital practices that work online or in the mobile channel also suit in-store experiences,” says Pavani Yalla, Associate Creative Director Experience Design. “However, a customer’s needs and overall frame of mind vary drastically by location. For instance, customers expect very quick and efficient experiences while inside a store and tend to be easily distracted by the environment and a multitude of other products.”

The goal here was to increase in-store sales by 10%, and it was clear that for the in-store kiosk to succeed, it would need to be championed by sales associates. The KPI was usage: the solution needed to serve the customer when the associate was not available, and give the associate a valuable sales tool. SapientNitro’s solution, which was a runner-up in the Bottom Line Impact category, allows customers to interact with a sturdy, fully branded electronic kiosk that allows them to compare appliances and work closely with an associate to complete their transactions.

In order to get all sides of a project closer to a solution that delivers the best experience while meeting the bottom-line needs, SapientNitro engages clients in a series of workshops at the onset of a project to create alignment on a vision and also co-create a solution, keeping business and user needs in mind. To keep their team inspired while focusing on business goals, the agency relies on a collecting an interdisciplinary group, ensuring a balance between user needs and business needs.

“All members of our internal team are engaged up front during the conceptual workshops,” Yalla says. “This helps them understand the crux of the business needs and the goals of the project. However, we then allow the creative process to shape our ideas, being careful not to limit them.”

Balancing Profitability and Usability in Publishing

Gaining and maintaining profitability in the publishing world has been tricky proposition for many years, especially in the realm of academia. With a keen interest in transforming the publishing industry and the scattershot realm of digital learning, McGraw-Hill—realizing that textbooks are basically obsolete—worked with Salesforce to create an app their sales team could use when presenting their digital textbooks to customers on campuses worldwide.

“In a highly cross-pollinated industry like higher education, the success of this app [a finalist in the DfE awards] has spread to McGraw-Hill's competitors,” says Mike Portman, User Experience Lead for Salesforce.

According to Portman, 85% of the B2B apps his team develops are still focused on the business needs over the users needs. “Too often, the product owner acts as a proxy for the end user, instead of allowing the end users to represent themselves,” he says. “As a design team, we are constantly faced with clients who ask us to make bad compromises in order to meet their business needs.”

Helping the client feel good about the right compromises makes it easier for the design team

Portman sees hope, however, in the slow but steady growth of B2B clients who see the value of experience design—recognizing that the incremental cost for experience design, compared to the total cost of an app, has a very positive ROI. He estimates that experience design should represent 20-to-30% of a project budget, but says they’ve been able to make an impact with as little as 15%.

“Every product owner is going to ask for more features then they need, so the trick is to help them feel good about cutting those low value items. Even with those clients, who make the investment in UX, inevitably we will need to help them feel good about compromises and trade offs. Helping the client feel good about the right compromises makes it easier for the design team to create designs that make the world a better place, one interaction at a time.”

To maximize the effectiveness of their work, his teams engage everyone in the user research phase—extending past the design team.

“For McGraw-Hill, the Senior UI Designer conducted three ride-alongs, the Business Analyst did two ride-alongs, and the Project Manager and Senior Developer each did one,” Portman says. “Their first-hand exposure to the end-user changed the way they reacted to every subsequent step, as we designed a highly contextual, fluid experience model. If they hadn't had that exposure, they would not have been in a position to defend the highest impact components.”

Come Together

As experience design continues to expand its presence and importance across and within a variety of industries, it’s important that practitioners stay true to the processes and creative approaches to problem solving that helped put UX on the map in the first place. But with more and more businesses looking to experience design to improve their user experience while also improving their bottom line, we’d be wise to look for more ways to balance business needs against the needs of the holy user.

You can explore more of the entries in the Bottom Line Impact category of the international Design for Experience awards on the official awards site.