An Introduction to Growth Design

Why Growth challenges designers to re-think how they work, and businesses to reconsider the value of design.

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Growth is changing the way designers work both as individuals and within teams. As more companies are building out dedicated growth teams, there’s a growing consciousness around how designers can sit within these teams to help contribute to business growth.

What is Growth?

Growth happens when your product or service’s value is understood and experienced by your users, to the point where they continue to re-engage organically over time. This essentially boils down to two key moments:

  1. Understanding what the core value of your product is.
  2. Helping a new user understand and experience that core value so that they are compelled to continue using your product or service.

An overall improvement in funnel metrics (acquisition, activation, retention, revenue and referral) is an indication that your users have understood and experienced your core value.

How is growth measured?

We might focus on how we activate a new user by helping them understand your core value. But we also need to look at how we bring users back — how we can build habits and create cycles of behaviour—so that those users continue to re-engage without the need to pay to re-acquire them.

Within the practice of Growth Design, it’s about doing this in the quickest and most sustainable way, using data, experimentation and discipline to help guide decisions. It’s not about quick wins or sudden spikes in Growth, nor does it have anything to do with gimmicks, promos or dark patterns. The ultimate goal is to deliver value to the business in the form of highly engaged repeat users.

Introducing the Growth Team

If Growth is about growing your number of engaged users, then a Growth Team is simply the team that owns the responsibility of connecting more users to your product’s core value.

A cross-functional Growth Team

Growth requires cross-functional skills — you’ll rarely see an individual owning Growth by themselves (think the lone Growth Hacker). But the shape and size a Growth Team takes will vary from organisation to organisation. Not all companies will have a dedicated Growth Team; some may be more distributed. Likewise, some companies might have an aggressive approach to growth, whilst others are more reserved.

A Growth Team will typically work in fast, disciplined cycles:

  • Set a goal and define the problem.
  • Gather insight through data and user research.
  • Ideate and prioritise.
  • Design, build and run experiments.
  • Analyse the results of the tests.

This cycle repeats with constant iteration, learning and testing. There’s no beginning or end.

The Growth Team’s way of working.

Why does Design matter to a Growth Team?

Growth is fundamentally a user-centred activity; without user engagement, there can be no Growth. And as guardian of the user experience, design helps a Growth Team see success through the user’s eye and helps to build experiences that enable that success to happen.

Design brings a lens of user empathy to a Growth Team.

This lens of user empathy helps to balance the data with the human, with the emotional. It helps bring light to the ‘why’ behind the data points, hints at what users want and when they want it, and what their underlying motivations are — the fears, desires and triggers that shape their behaviour. In this way, design is an indispensable part of the Growth Team makeup.

The principles of Growth Design

Let’s take a look at what makes for successful Growth Design.

#1 Growth is a team sport

Since Growth teams tend to work very quickly, it’s important to be able to work closely and collaborate, share knowledge and responsibility, and be comfortable wearing multiple hats. This keeps the wheels oiled and allows the team to be very nimble.

#2 Continuous discovery is key

Make time every week to conduct user research — small or big — and review incoming findings and data. By baking this into our daily lives, we can keep our focus on the user and anchor every decision we make to the user it effects.

Continuous discovery: little but often

#3 Focus on the problem before the solution

Solutions are less abstract than problems. But if we don’t fully explore and understand the problem we risk prioritising less impactful solutions or even the wrong problem. By taking time to explore the problem, it helps you consider a variety of solutions you may not have otherwise thought of. It also prevents you from comparing solutions that address different problems, or prioritising based on personal bias.

We need to consider what the biggest opportunity is both for the user and the business, and focus our efforts on solutions that address that. This is powerful for a Growth Team as it relates every end solution back to the business need by placing the user need right in the middle.

We can use the Opportunity Solution Tree format to help us explore the problem (credit: )

#4 Perfect is the enemy of done

In Growth Design it’s important to be able to execute quickly and reduce your work to an MVP (a minimum viable product) so that it can be released to the user incrementally. To do this, we must block out the core experience and remove what’s not necessary. This gives us data and insight sooner, meaning we can iterate with more precision. Remember, the impact of the design is valued over the polished surface.

In Growth Design good design gets us to the next phase. It’s impactful first, and beautiful second.

#5 Test and iterate

Experimentation is a key tactic for Growth teams. AB testing allows us to find out to a degree of certainty if a change has a statistically significant impact on the user experience. This is valuable because it:

  • Prevents us from building an experience based on assumption.
  • Kills features that don’t add value.
  • Gives greater insight into the user, helping paint a more accurate picture of their needs and behaviour. Even failed tests help us learn.
  • Allows the team to move quickly and change direction when needed.
  • Helps us validate the positive impact we’ve having as a team.

#6 Sustainable growth over short-term wins

In Growth Design there’s a responsibility to create an experience which is sustainable, which nets more long-term engaged users. It’s not about short-term spikes in Growth — when those flatten out we’re back to square one.

It’s tempting to jump to promotions, offers, and dark patterns to put pressure on a user to re-engage, however they’ll only be loyal as long as the best offers last. The trick is to figure out how to bring that user back by offering something unique they can’t get elsewhere (such as unique content, products, services or user experience), or by building behaviour loops.

As opposed to a linear funnel which has an entry point and drop off, a loop includes actions and triggers that compel the user to re-enter the cycle over and over again. Some common examples might be saving, following or sharing flows, post-purchase experiences, or engagement through user generated content. (I won’t go into this in too much detail here, but for a good example, you can read about how Pinterest built their content loops ). Behaviour loops can be self-perpetuating and reduce reliance on paying to re-acquire users.

Conclusion

Growth is about helping your users understand and experience your core value. When we do this, we drive sustainable, long-term user engagement. Design plays a critical role in a Growth Team by bringing a lens of user empathy that helps the team understand what success looks like to the user. And for a designer that’s a powerful thing; it means that we’re able to build experiences that not only engage and enable the user, but which in turn drive meaningful change for the business.

This article was originally given as a talk at UX Crunch by in London, January ‘20.

Senior product designer at Trouva. Interested in design systems, user research practices, and design for growth.