Q&A: Saving Money with Design Thinking for App Dev Teams

Traditionally, there has been a divide between developers and designers in the app-dev space. Coders just want to code, the thinking was, while deriding amorphous design considerations. Some chalked it up to a left-brain/right-brain thing.

Although that thinking has evolved quite a bit with modern development techniques, vestiges still remain.

But there's a real good reason to bridge the divide completely: money.

Specifically, "Because you can make and save a lot of money by placing design thinking and innovation at the heart of your application development -- perhaps more money than your entire software development budget!"

That eye-opening claim -- sure to appeal to everyone from top management to front-line grunts -- comes from "agent provocateur" Billy Hollis, widely known for his contrarian views.

Both a software designer and developer himself, Hollis is going to fully explain his profit-driven advice with real-world numbers at an upcoming presentation at the big, in-person Visual Studio Live! conference set for June 13-17 in Austin, Texas.

In his June 14 presentation titled Design Thinking for App Dev Teams: Why and How, attendees will learn how to estimate the amount of money bad design is costing them, using a spreadsheet with tried-and-true formulas.

Along with focusing -- with his team at Next Version Systems -- on user experience design (UX), advanced user interface (UI) development, rules-based architectures and more, Hollis also teaches design classes for UX and technical classes on XAML for the Universal Windows Platform and XAML for WPF.

We caught up with the Nashville-based Hollis to learn more in a short Q&A:

VisualStudioMagazine: Your presentation on Design Thinking for App Dev Teams will discuss how organizations can save a lot of money by placing design thinking and innovation at the heart of application development initiatives. Could you briefly explain one key example of this?
Hollis: In one case, a Fortune 1000 company started saving, and is still saving, an eight-figure amount per year, mostly through labor savings in their staff of 9,000 users.

"In one case, a Fortune 1000 company started saving, and is still saving, an eight-figure amount per year."

Billy Hollis, Software Designer, Developer, Consultant, Speaker and Agent Provocateur

The principal design innovations in that case included radically better ways for users to find the information they needed, and better navigation options to quickly get to the right place in this huge app to carry out daily tasks. Also, we designed better ways to manage complex workflows. They went from from generic data grid approaches to managed workflow with plug-in pieces for each workflow step. This made them faster, helped them make better decisions at each step and made these workflows far easier to learn for new users.

The amount of money saved could perhaps total more money than an entire software development budget. How are such savings possible?
Take the example I just talked about. Speeding up users adds up quickly.

The total savings per year for that application is easily 10 times the amount spent on design and development of the new version of the application, including what they paid their own people. In another case, a 200-user application cut unit labor cost by half for processing 20,000 prescriptions and refills per day. In yet a third case, a manufacturer commissioned a production management application that eliminated multiple production errors per year -- each at a typical cost of $1 million to $2 million.

You mention a spreadsheet with real-world formulas used to estimate the amount of money bad design is costing organizations. Will that be provided to attendees?
Yes, I'm happy to give them that spreadsheet, which was created specifically to estimate design ROI for corporate apps. It's one of my most popular downloads. In addition to doing the ROI calculations, it presents and explains the formulas used.

Inside the Session

What: Design Thinking for App Dev Teams: Why and How

When: June 16, 9:30am - 10:45am.

Who: Billy Hollis, Designer, Developer and Instructor

Why: $, lots of $

Find out more about Visual Studio Live!, taking place June 13-17 in Austin, Texas

I have an Excel version and a Google Sheets version. I'll also offer attendees the option of doing a half-hour online session to help them complete it and discuss nuances of design ROI.

Naturally, not every application can get the amount of payback discussed in the earlier examples. But it's still surprisingly easy for returns on design to surpass the amount spent on it. Plus the organization gains the more intangible returns of having a modern, well-designed, respected application, which helps with things like retention of users.

Attendees will also learn about requirements and steps to help create a customized design strategy that brings together all the roles in software development in the goal of reaping benefits of good design. What are those roles, typically?
Developers have a major role in design of most complex, big-team applications, centered around their deep expertise in the domain involved. Product owners and other team members who manage features clearly have a role, along with visual designers and anyone else with design sensibilities.

I've also been surprised that development managers, or even higher-level executives such as CEOs, can be a valuable part of a design team. It requires commitment on their part to spend the time needed.

Seeing the potential ROI has helped many of them decide to invest that time in design and design thinking participation.

One of the roles that many teams won't have internally is someone to help them construct and learn a customized design process. That person understands a variety of options for doing design thinking, and should have a good facilitation background to keep the team from getting bogged down. Perhaps the biggest single contribution of that outsider is helping a team break free from the past. They need to get out of their ruts in thinking about their application works, and a design specialist usually comes in with a pool of ideas to help them do that.

In addition to contributing to lost productivity, unnecessary errors, bad decisions and time lost in training, have organizations suffered other negative effects of bad design?
One of my clients was seeing a competitor poach customers simply because the competitor's app was better designed, particularly in aesthetics and layout. The competitor was even showing screenshots of their app to erode confidence in the client's overall ability to perform!

Many developers have traditionally ignored or at least neglected design considerations, focusing solely on nuts-and-bolts problem solving, and creating kind of a divide between designers and coders. Why do think that has happened, and do you see that divide being reduced these days in modern software development techniques?
Our ecosystem, with its complex APIs and never-ending rapid change of technologies, has filtered the developer population to mostly code-oriented and detail-oriented people. They consider their jobs to be writing code, not delivering valuable, effective applications. A few of those developers just don't fit design efforts, because they just can't raise their heads out of the swamp of details in which they live. Design requires big picture thinking, and that's a new skill for many developers.

However, my experience is that a majority of developers can learn techniques to be a valuable and effective part of a design team. Some even grow to really like it. Not surprising, because innovation can be fun. Once they see the value and fun in design, those developers no longer feel that divide with designers. As teams acquire expertise in high design, I've seen them get to the point where's there's no divide between devs and designers at all.

About the Author

David Ramel is an editor and writer for Converge360.

comments powered by Disqus


Subscribe on YouTube