How can UX designers in e-commerce talk the language of business?
We all know Covid changed the way we work. But beyond remote working and new ways of collaborating, what has been the impact on the design team specifically? Well, in some industries it gave designers the opportunity to lead their businesses forward, powered by their creative expertise. That’s the view of two retail design experts we recently chatted to in our webinar series Inside the Minds of Design Leaders.
Gerrit Kaiser is Director of Product Design at Zalando, a Berlin-based fashion e-commerce company with over 50m active customers across Europe. Stuart Wainstock is Senior Manager, Global E-Commerce User Interface at PUMA, the world’s third largest sportswear manufacturer, headquartered in Bavaria.
In this blog, we share some of their thoughts from our webinar on the changing industry, design success, and making the business case for UX/UI.
An industry in flux
“The last two years have been an interesting ride,” says Kaiser. The initial panic. The increased focus on e-commerce. The explosion in online orders. The blurring of boundaries between online and offline retailers and brands. Supply chain chaos that still persists. The fashion industry changed forever, he says.
Zalando’s initial Covid response was to accelerate programmes that helped ‘brick & mortar’ retailers continue their business under lock down by selling their ranges online and turning orders around quickly. “This has now become a core part of the offering,” notes Kaiser.
From Wainstock’s perspective, the underlying state of the world brings in a lot of the key challenges. We’re still in a global pandemic. There are geopolitical tensions. Consumer behaviour is changing across every market and every region. It adds complexity to the work designers are doing, he says. “But it also presents an interesting way that design can solve some of these really gnarly business challenges.”
“The work that’s going on every single day is: how do we take all these really complex world challenges and use the power of design to approach them in a meaningful and mindful way?” says Stuart.
One way PUMA did this was to increase its reliance on Figma to support the move to greater online working as staff shifted, within weeks, to online meetings and collaboration. “App design can be done very successfully online and in a digital way because we are working with digital medium,” he says.
A major challenge, however, was the physical nature of e-commerce, being centred on packaging, warehousing, stock, photographers, stylists, and models. The combination of digital with safety-first social distancing was the answer, but “from an e-commerce perspective we had to shift into a completely different gear,” admits Wainstock.
Measuring design success
One of the problems with the design aspect of e-commerce is design work success can be hard to measure, says Kaiser. “The company understands that design works and designers trust the process.”
The Zalando design team employs the usual set of methodologies for usability testing, generative research, or quant validation. “That said, for us, the design discipline and product design is such a core part of the development process of the business that design success is business success,” he says.
Most of their product design teams work in an embedded way directly with product, engineering and business stakeholders, explains Kaiser. They’re also in very close contact with whoever they need to be - customers, brand partners, retailers, customer service agents, or warehouse workers. It makes measuring design success separately almost futile because everyone's success is important, he says.
As for PUMA, Wainstock says, “We’re happy when the consumer is happy.” Design success is “a smooth flow” where they’re able to create frictionless experiences for site visitors through the entire purchase journey, with no dead ends or “miserable” credit card validation issues.
Wainstock adds that the design and engineering team is starting to glean fresh nuggets of intelligence that quantify the value of a system or digital experience. It’s helping to give them tangible traction in talking to senior leadership about funding and expansion, he says.
Making the business case for UX/UI
Being a great UX designer is only one part of the job. You also need to bring everyone else along with you.
In Wainstock’s opinion it’s imperative you can translate what you’re saying as a designer into the language of business. “You’re the advocate for the power of design.” This could mean doing a bit of a sales pitch to explain where, with your expertise, you’re envisaging value. It helps to have qualitative or quantitative data to back up your proposal, he adds.
Kaiser says educating business colleagues is the key. Teach business stakeholders the language of user-centricity and the way your customers actually talk and think about your products, he advises. Don’t shy away from business complexity. Speak the language of your stakeholders and customers, he says.
As an example, Zalando has a chunk of its design team that works on internal tools and enterprise experiences for Zalando teams and partners. They do user research with colleagues to understand how some of the areas with lower design maturities work, such as fashion buying, shipping, or warehousing. “There may be departments or entire companies that have never worked with designers before. But those designers can go in there and blaze a trail,” says Kaiser.
So, how can UX designers in e-commerce talk the language of business? Engage confidently. Understand the broader business. Speak their language of outcomes and metrics. That way, you can share vision, highlight opportunities, and blaze a trail.
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