How a grasp of business concepts gives designers a boost | by Kati Plian | Jan, 2024


2023 might not sound like a good year for many tech people. With the fear of recession, tech mass layoffs began and grew rapidly from one company to another. It resulted in more than 240,000 jobs lost and continued growing. There has been a big shift from the focus on a growth mindset to another set of thinking, efficiency, profitability, or any measurable metrics to tackle these stubborn market conditions. [1]

Tech professionals, including us UX practitioners, are not immune to this change. In the meantime, a huge wave is coming our way bringing the change in approach from user-first to business-first, and it is going to reshape the landscape of UX design in unprecedented ways, the way we never expected before. Now it is our turn to ask ourselves, is it time for us to tighten our belts and brace ourselves for the unpredictable ride this rollercoaster is about to take us on?

In the ever-changing landscape of 2023, businesses are honing in on product, design, and innovation to ensure measurable returns, and quick growth with less human and time resources. I have always nodded along in agreement with what written by Kate Syuma, former Head of Growth Design at Miro, in her article, From UX to Growth Design: 5 Principles to Multiply Your Value.

“Traditional UX design used to have a more spacious room to envision the best possible future: start with great foundational research, go step by step through double-diamond, ending up with holistic redesign and steady development. I’m afraid we don’t have this luxury in 2023.[2]”, said Kate Syuma

As designers, we are experiencing a decline in our influence within organizations, finding ourselves in an era where user-centric design is unfortunately an afterthought [3]. “The State of UX in 2024” advises us, designers, to embrace learning the business language and connecting the dots between our designs and their impact on business outcomes.

However, embracing business thinking also proves to be a considerable challenge for us, sometimes it even leads to a sense of contradiction and resistance amongst designer fellows. The big question lingers: Can we, as UX folks, navigate and thrive amidst this chaos?, especially when it seems like UX and Business have been perceived as two separate worlds all this time?

Design education and community.

I related deeply to Darren Yeo’s story when I read his article. Because whenever we talk about business, there is always this noticeable resistance[4]. During my time in bootcamp, the narrative often painted business as the villain and design as the hero. They portrayed the harsh side of business which is greedily obsessed with money and profits, with designers and their design principles emerging as the saviors, dedicated to solving users’ problems. This stereotype created a bias in us. Now, whenever business-related discussions come up, or you get to meet with those business professionals, the meeting often feels like a clash rather than a friendly collaboration.

The process

the process itself becomes a significant factor contributing to the disconnect. The reality is that much of design work is operational, while strategic numerical aspects often fall under the lap of business and marketing teams. As each team focuses solely on their specific tasks, the bridge between strategy and operation gets severed. Therefore, as a designer, we design what strategy and tactics state to work, and make sure it offers good experiences to users. And that is all. It is not uncommon for designers to appear clueless when asked about the business impact of their designs. The reason lies in the fact that we are seldom involved in strategic considerations right from the start.

Three levels of work in organizations and how the strategy and operation disconnet(Image source: Dennis Hambeukers from his article A new model of the design process [5])
Three levels of work in organizations and how the strategy and operation disconnect (Image source: Dennis Hambeukers from his article A new model of the design process)

While the line between Business and UX design is cut off by both UX education and the working process, it tends to pull us away from the big picture, urging us to focus solely on the user. Due to these contraints, it gradually evolves into a way of working, or a sort of natural steps we seem to follow both willingly and unwillingly.

This is what I am interested in, and eager to understand more, I just get a feeling that, to connect the dots between design and business, we have got to start by figuring out where we are all standing first. Therefore, whenever I meet with fellow designers, I often ask them to do some design challenge. It is a challenge with a set of requirements and constraints under limited time so, it feels a bit more serious and a bit like the real setting of work environment.

I expect to see that pattern, how we react, and tackle the challenge. And, after conducting this sort of challenge with more than 10 designers, that pattern reveals. Here below is an example to illustrate the idea.

The design challenge to investigate designers’ pattern (image source:Koos in Figma community)
The design challenge to investigate designers’ pattern (Designed components by Koos in Figma community)


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