Working in the design industry for 15 years has made me change my perspectives and concepts about design quite a bit, I call it maturing. Starting my career all I cared about was designing things that would stand out from everything else as if I was creating an original piece of art, something to be enjoyed and not used. I often heard design is function over form, but everywhere I looked, all my references were form over function, these were the Macromedia Flash days.

As I grew older, and also the Internet, I started being curious about how things worked, and how easy and functional things were, the smartphone was launched, responsive and mobile design was all the rage and with it, user experience design started to get traction. Once again I had to evolve my perception of things, starting to care if things made sense, moving away from something to be enjoyed to something to be useful as if people visiting these websites and apps were trying to accomplish something and not necessarily pass the time by admiring a piece of art.

Now moving forward a few years, when digital product design became a thing, these SaaS platforms started to come out, and with it, new concepts, the focus of user penetration, user adoption, user conversion, and so on, these new web applications were now businesses, things that needed to turn a revenue, cost optimisation and most importantly, profit.

Today I think much differently from 15 years ago, design is not how it looks, or how it functions, it’s a vehicle to translate business and people’s needs into something that can have a positive outcome for both, being useful for the people using it, and financially positive for the business.

So how can designers understand the business context and goals to become better at what they do?

Business context refers to the industry, market, and competition within which a business operates. Designers who understand the business context can create designs that are not only in line with industry standards but also come up with innovative ways to disrupt such standards. Questions like, what are your direct competitors, what are your customer segments, what is your business value chain and business model, and what are your expectations for the digital channel, will become part of the question toolkit a designer needs to have.

In addition to business context, it is also important for designers to understand the specific goals and objectives of a business. These goals may include increasing sales, improving customer experience, or establishing a brand identity. By understanding the business goals, designers can make informed design decisions that support, meet and enhance the way to achieve it.

Being able to understand the business context and goals, helps us designers to start defining what the product or service vision will be, and how we can support the business to drive this strategic bet and results, all with a human-centric approach.

You see, this is, in my opinion, the missing piece of the puzzle, one last important tool in the designer’s toolkit. We already know how to look for people’s wants and needs, their pain points, their jobs, frustrations, and aspirations. We also know how to collaborate with our engineering counterparts, with our tools that spit out code, and assets in multiple formats and shapes, design tokens, components, and systems.

When designers have a deep understanding of the business needs and goals, they can communicate effectively with business stakeholders, making it easier to get buy-in and approval for design decisions and more importantly, they can help build things that actually have an impact, not only in people’s lives but also making sure the business also wins with it, so it can continue to create value for the people it serves.

In conclusion, a designer’s understanding of the business context and goals is critical to creating designs that meet the needs of both the business and its customers. By taking the time to understand the business context and goals, designers become a fundamental piece in defining and shaping how these products and services get to the world.