When it comes to driving relevance at scale, conducting meaningful testing and optimization roll outs, and developing consumer-friendly, high-value, ROI-driven systems and best practices, the size and scope of the organization simply doesn’t matter. That’s not to say a well-funded, mature company won’t start from a place of strength, but personalization and optimization are truly an anyman’s marketing tactic. Just look at the proliferation of growth hacking and its buzzed-about roots as an innovative solution for start-ups that couldn’t compete with the big guys.

Michael Krypel’s new book, Refining Design for Business, drills down even more on the age of relationship marketing and the notion of integrating an “iterative optimization methodology” for businesses large and small. As the executive director of Adobe Digital Consulting, Michael has worked with organizations from nearly every niche of the digital marketing landscape, from newcomers to Fortune 10s, helping them reimagine, reinvent, and realign their optimization strategies to become wholly customer centric. And this book is meant to share the wealth, making the interdisciplinary approach accessible to anyone from executives to marketers to analysts, solutions architects, and even students, in any industry, of any size.

Part one of Michael’s book dives right into the meat of the conversation: how to create engaging customer experiences by integrating his methodology and leveraging design testing and optimization. In this relationship era of marketing, it’s critical that brands and businesses focus on design that enhances engagement and mutual value and emphasizes collaboration and innovation.

Why Design Matters

Design is everything. “Innovation and technology have forever changed what it means to be a business,” explains Michael, with new, “novel ways” for consumers to engage with brands, be it “interactive visual and audio experiences such as webpages or apps, using computers, mobile devices, and televisions.” What do these unique platforms have in common? They’re based in design. “Customers interact with designs by looking, clicking, typing, listening, speaking to and touching them,” whenever, wherever, and however they choose, be it on a smartphone, desktop, tablet, or something else, from home, from work, or even on the go.

No matter the point of entry, consumers are quick to assess and determine whether a site is for them—it’s the last millisecond all over again. Is this the app for me? Does this site “get” me? Should I stay and poke around or should I go? Delivering a relevant experience is the key to keeping the consumer engaged, and the ability to express a business’s capabilities, offerings, and general “vibe” while making the consumer experience seamless, productive, and engagement-driven—the design—is the difference between a customer who lingers and one who jumps ship.

In spite of its significance, there’s no standard in place for effective, efficient, consumer-driven business design. What’s more, beyond standard A/B testing, what’s the “right” way to measure the impact and efficacy of Web design? According to Michael, many companies leave design decisions to trial and error or even gut—and there’s simply no room for gut when it comes to optimization.

A Methodological Framework for Creating and Evaluating Design

Seeing this gap in the industry, Michael set out to find a methodology for creating and evaluating website and app design that could be applied to any business—big or small, mature or just starting out. Based on best practices cultivated and honed over years within a cross-functional team at Adobe and testing within hundreds of businesses in all industries and “life stages,” Michael’s iterative optimization methodology is truly a revolutionary approach to something we’ve all been guessing and checking for decades.

The first step is integrating Michael’s customer-centric design principles. It’s essential to understand which designs your customers will engage with in a meaningful, ongoing way, and which will drive them away. Effective business design must “satisfy both the goals of the business and those of their customers,” which, as Michael acknowledges, can be a difficult mandate. A consumer may want to be entertained—a video, an article, something fun and viral—and, typically, the host business needs to drive revenue or other fiscally centric key performance indicators (KPIs). So how do we bring those two sometimes-opposing objectives together? What designs will enhance customer value while driving measurable results for your business?

At this stage, it’s critical to test multiple versions of a design against another in simple, controlled experiments. Anything can be tested—layout, products, services, features, and functionality or other messaging—and should be assessed both qualitatively and quantitatively to get a complete picture of what’s working and what’s not. User testing at this stage can help you understand what your customers are trying to achieve as they navigate through your site, as well as some of the hurdles they face that keep them from converting. More complex variations—segmentation, for example—can also come into play here.

Then onto Michael’s big reveal. His iterative optimization methodology has driven hundreds of millions of dollars in new and incremental revenue across his broad-reaching client base. Businesses implementing Michael’s methodology typically have one test running within every major area of the site, such as homepage layouts and product recommendations. From here the core methodology is:

  • Start from a helpful and customer-centric viewpoint
  • Use qualitative and quantitative customer research
  • Regularly realign business goals with customer goals
  • Experiment with products and services by testing designs

“The importance of starting from a foundation of helpfulness,” explains Michael, “cannot be overstated.” Because customers are goal-oriented, they’re on your site for a reason, with a clear-cut need, want, or must-have in mind. Can you help them or can’t you? From this crucial first step, businesses must continue to reassess and realign their outputs based on the feedback they’re getting on their designs and optimization strategies, and take it even further by rolling out product and service tests surrounding these designs.

This method isn’t without challenges, especially in the beginning. How can you build an online business using Michael’s methodology without first knowing the challenges and obstacles a customer faces? And what if the business’s need to make money doesn’t align with consumers’ hopes and dreams?

That’s just part one, and in his book Michael teases case studies for the Washington Post and even the 2012 presidential election. It’s definitely worth a read, no matter the industry you come from.

Next week I’ll look at part two of Michael’s book, “Using Data to Inform Design,” which stomps on some existing notions that data and design are at odds—the creative versus the numbers, the inspiration versus the analytics—and looks, instead, at the ways the metrics can push design impact and effectiveness even further, without stifling anyone’s artistic integrity. This should leave both sides of the creative development debate cheering, and open the door for even greater returns from consumer-centric design integration.