Design Champion’s Toolkit: How to Advocate for Design

Cassandra King
Former Head of Content & Community
Published25 Feb, 2020
How to Advocate for Design in Your Organization

Design has never been more in demand.  From small-to-medium-sized businesses (SMBs) to enterprises, great design not only helps to legitimize a brand and distinguish it from competitors—it can actually impact a company’s bottom line (more on that later).

But many organizations see design as a nice to have, rather than an actual revenue driver.

You may be a product designer, CEO, marketing manager, VP of client development, or head of customer success. Maybe your design team is bogged down, and there’s a lack of resources and time available to you. Or maybe it feels like you’re the only person in your company who sees the value of design. Whatever your role, whatever your industry and whatever your reason, we’re here to help support you on your mission to drive great design in your organization.

In this toolkit you’ll find everything you need to champion design within your company. We’ll cover 5 ways to do it, along with some scenarios and practical tips you can take back and start testing at your own company.

Five Ways to Champion Great Design in Your Organization

1. Give Your Colleagues the Facts About Design

Who this solution is for: anyone who understands the value of design (whether on your team, or within the organization), but needs some talking points and proof to help convince the rest of your team.

So, you’re in need of a little design proof! Well, you’ve come to the right place. We did the preliminary research, so all you have to do now is start spreading the word. Here are five of our favorite design success stats, along with some helpful links.

Three Design Stats to Help Prove that Great Design Matters

Design Stat #1: In 2018, a McKinsey report “The Business Value of Design” found that over a five-year period, companies who invested in good design had 32% more revenue and 56% more total returns to shareholders.

These stats held true over all three main industries, which included medical technology, consumer goods, and retail banking. So, it appears that investing in good design has a positive effect no matter what you’re selling.

Design Stat #2: According to a study conducted by Adobe, 50% of design-led companies report more loyal customers as a benefit to having advanced design practices.

It’s so important to think about how design directly impacts your customers and their experience with your brand. A great experience can lead to delighted repeat customers, who become advocates for your business.

Design Stat #3: In early 2019, InVision released a study that found that almost all companies with the most mature design functions could draw a straight line between their design teams' work and the company's revenue. 84% of those companies said design had improved the ability to get products to market, while 85% said design had enabled cost savings.

As mentioned above, the effects that great design can have on a business shouldn’t be downplayed. Use these stats to your advantage: If you’re in an organization where the main issue with championing design is that there’s a lot of pushback on its effectiveness and cost, use these facts and help bolster your case.

2. Outline a Design Starter Plan

Who this solution is for: individuals and teams that have access to design but there’s a constant bottleneck, or people who have no design help at all. 

“I have access to design, but they don’t have time for my work...”

This is a common scenario in organizations that are not yet totally invested in design, but do see the importance of having designers in-house. Though every organization is different, often in this stage designers will be splitting their time between teams, primarily spending time fulfilling needs for both product and marketing.

Though this is a better scenario than having no design help at all, it does leave designers stretched thin and constantly task switching, and everyone else missing deadlines or having projects “deprioritized.”

Because design projects ebb and flow, ranging from large month-long projects, to smaller ongoing work, some companies may actually benefit from using outside design resources to help push projects through the pipeline.

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s this:

“I have little to no access to design, and need to find a starter solution…”

It may be tough to get your organization to jump in headfirst. So, take this chance to let them dip their toes. Provide a starter plan by testing out external design vendors on a few key projects.

If possible, choose projects that can be measured and reported back on. Some examples include:

  • Advertisements
  • Emails
  • Social media campaigns
  • Website imagery
  • Landing pages

Some types of external design resources are:

1. Design agencies ($$$)

  • Example: global agencies like Pentagram or Huge, smaller local agencies, or specialized agencies
  • Most often very high quality work from talented folks
  • Dedicated team that knows your brand well
  • Can be slow and often pricey
  • Lots of strategy meetings, sometimes hidden costs, and quality creative projects that can take weeks if not months to be delivered

2. On-demand design services ($$)

  • Example: Superside
  • Always-on network of super creative talent representing the top 0.2% of designers from around the globe
  • Full suite of design services at scale with speed, quality, and accountability
  • Customized teams depending on your project needs
  • Delivery times as little as 12 or 24 hours

3. Design marketplaces ($ - ?)

  • Example: Fiverr, Upwork, and 99Designs
  • Usually fast and cheap alternative for one off projects
  • Hard to gauge the skill or quality of work, as projects are often picked up by unvetted freelancers who bid on your brief
  • Less accountability or management support

Six Step Design Starter Plan:

Step 1: Outline important projects that you need completed/keep getting pushed by your internal team.

Step 2: Explore your options—agencies, on-demand design services and freelancer marketplaces—and choose a few to highlight.

Step 3: Present your options to key stakeholders, and try to decide on one to try first (start low if you’re getting a lot of pushback).

Step 4: Assign out your design project, and manage it closely to ensure your resource has everything they need to succeed (much like you would with an internal team).

Step 5: Report back to your stakeholders (with hopefully good news) and get more buy-in!

Step 6: Keep scaling. If your design work is getting results and is helping to relieve internal backlog, then keep on investing in those external options.

3. Implement a Design Management System and/or DesignOps Team

Who this solution is for: people who have a design team, but one that is bogged down by tasks and unable to hit deadlines.

Ever heard of a design bottleneck? Even if you're lucky enough to have dedicated designers on your team, that doesn't mean everything's going smoothly—more often than not those designers are drowning in work and falling behind on critical deadlines. If this sounds like your team, it's time to think about implementing a design management system or a design operations (DesignOps) team to help break that bottleneck.

What is design management? Design management is essentially the business side of design—it’s the strategy, project management, and operations behind improving creative processes and structure, allowing for design to happen smoothly and efficiently.

So, what is DesignOps? DesignOps is similar to design management. It’s a collective term (and often an actual role) for people who tackle challenges on evolving and growing design teams. For example, people in DesignOps roles may be in charge of creating efficient workflows, hiring for gaps on the team, and overall just improving the output of design. DesignOps makes room for designers to do what they do best: design.

Sounds like an important role, right? Well, it is. We even wrote a free DesignOps eBook about it.

According to Dave Malouf, a consultant, coach and educator in the DesignOps space, most companies actually already have design operations in place whether they know it or not. It might not be a dedicated role, but many teams do have someone (often a manager or team lead) tasked with improving design output via strategies and support.

But sometimes you may need to get buy in to prove that having someone dedicated to DesignOps and design management is important for the health and success of your design team.

Three Reasons Why Your Company May Need DesignOps

Reason #1: It helps prevent designer churn

This isn’t talked about too much by people outside of hiring or HR, but employee “churn” is a costly thing.

When your designers are being stretched thin, burnout can (and does) happen. The health and happiness of your employees more often than not comes down to their work. Are they enjoying what they’re doing? Do they feel valued? Is there opportunity for growth? These are all things that a good manager and leader should be looking out for.

When trying to convince your organization that DesignOps is necessary, point to the data.

“The easiest things to start talking about are the numbers that matter to the business,” says Malouf. “The one that I like the most, depending on the scale of your organization, is attrition because it's a huge engagement indicator for your team. And it's a big cost. Every time you lose a person that's like $50,000 thrown away just on the recruitment and the loss of knowledge by the time you find and onboard somebody.”

If DesignOps can keep your designers doing what they do best, and help prevent employees from jumping ship, then that alone can be worth the cost of dedicating someone to this position.

Reason #2: It keeps your designers designing

Not only can DesignOps help to improve your design output, but it can help to keep your designers designing and spending less time in meetings or burning time doing everyday tasks.

Brennan Hartich, a DesignOps Leader working at Intuit, a financial software company, started to wonder about his own design team’s productivity. So, he ran a short survey to better understand their output.

“I asked them a simple question,” he told the audience at the 2018 DesignOps Summit. “How much time do you spend designing every day?”

“The answer was three hours. Which is scary. We hire these people full-time to be designers or content writers and they’re only spending three hours per day [roughly 37 percent of their week] doing actual content work that was going toward our product.”

From project planning, to managing budgets, to cross-functional meetings, day-to-day tasks can really slow down your teams design production. DesignOps helps your designers do what they do best—design.

How much time do your designers spend actually designing? Run a survey and use this data to help prove your case.

Reason #3: It actually can help save you money

Did someone say, “save you money?” Yes. Yes we did.

What company doesn’t want to cut back on costs?

Jason Henrickson, a creative operations manager at Amazon, has spent years at the online retail giant helping to streamline complicated creative projects and solving issues that allow design teams to scale. Needless to say, he knows a lot about design management.

At Amazon, Henrickson’s team was able to reduce their budget spend by 44 percent last year. “I'd definitely say that's due to CreativeOps, because I just looked for ways to cut money the whole way throughout the year and keep the quality high.”

So not only can DesignOps prevent employee churn and keep your designers designing, it can save you a lot of money.

4. Foster a Design Thinking Culture

Who this solution is for: people who work at a company that likely invests in design already, but there’s a need for design to be integrated into the company's processes, (not be an afterthought).

This can be a tricky one to approach, as not every company will need their entire organization to be focused on design. That being said, almost any company will benefit from thinking critically about how design influences or impacts their target customer, and working to improve any and all external touchpoints to reflect this thinking.

Ultimately, if you’re finding that your sales team is using off-brand colors or fonts, or that your product team isn’t following accessibility design rules, then it’s likely a good time to start fostering a design strategy culture.

Here’s Some Tips for Fostering Design in Your Org:

a. Don’t make design an afterthought

New product feature on your company's roadmap? Bring in design before the product plan is finalized. Preparing to release an eBook? Start talking to design early on to help influence how your data and information will be visualized.

There are a ton of examples we could give, but ultimately it’s up to your company to start looping in design (whether that’s actual designers or key design leaders) early on in new projects or company updates. Design shouldn’t just be limited to pushing pixels—the end result and overall impact will be much greater if design gets a seat at the table from the get-go.

b. Let design present on projects

We’re likely all guilty of this. You may be in marketing, product or sales, presenting final projects to your company in meetings or quarterly town halls. You’re presenting because you led the project, and you may even mention the key designers who helped make the project helpful. But, there’s more that you can do. This is a perfect time to let your designers shine.

Invite design to speak to your entire organization about the decisions, rationale and strategy behind their work. Let your designers show that they aren’t an internal agency that spits out designs by request; that they actually have influence and ideas that go beyond making things look good.

c. Expect failures, but encourage curiosity

Not all design is going to work the way it was intended to. This is true with all aspects of business, but particularly when creativity is involved.

It pays off to be curious, take risks and experiment, but sometimes design will fail. It’s what you do with those learnings that will impact the business.

d. Start measuring the effectiveness of design

If you’re already doing this, then good for you! If not, then it’s important to start putting numbers and metrics next to design. This allows your organization to better see the value, and hopefully convince them to start investing more time, energy and resources into it.

Below we’ll go into more detail about what exactly you can report on, and how to best showcase your findings.

5. (Over) Report on the Results, Again and Again

Who this solution is for: Everyone!

We touched on this above, but reporting on the results is really a key way to get your organization to see the value of design. It can be hard to believe in something without tangible numbers to back it up.

A Few Ways You Can Start Measuring Design Value:

  • Do creative A/B tests on websites, emails, and ads to show that great design does impact your ROI. Make sure you’re following the rules of A/B tests in order to not skew the results.
  • Set benchmarks on campaign performances using previous data, and then compare that data against the performance of your new designs. Some benchmarks you can track are: website visitors, dwell time, click-through ratio (CTR), downloads, signups, and so on. Then, use these stats to find correlations between an increase in sales.
  • Review social posts, reviews and customer support emails to learn more about how people are receiving your designs. You can batch this content and put it into buckets to see if you find any commonalities.
  • Interview/poll your customers to get their point of view on your new landing page, product feature or advertisement.

Before putting any numbers down, build a shared understanding of the overall project goal. From there, you can break down that goal into measurable units (such as metrics that are trackable on your website or in advertisements).

There are tons of ways that you can become a design champion, and it all really boils down to the gaps and the needs of your company. Before deciding on one of the strategies above, think about where or how design is lacking in your organization, and shape your plan around that.

You also don’t have to limit yourself to only one way of championing design—though we recommend not trying to tackle them all at once. Start slow and grow.

Are we missing anything? Let us know at—we’re always looking for more ways to help people support design.

Cassandra King
Cassandra KingFormer Head of Content & Community

Cassandra King is the former Head of Content & Community at Superside. She’s a road trip aficionado, advocate for all things glitter, and can usually be found with a camera (or snacks) in hand. Find her on IG @casssandra.king.

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