Thoughtful approaches to business metrics, Business Origami, the future of supermarkets and uncovering opportunities with Blue Ocean Strategy
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June 2021
Issue 10
Metrics. They seem so alluring and reassuring in a business world full of unknowns.

Designers are increasingly told that comfort with quantification is key to gaining trust and influence in business. But what if those business or growth metrics are flawed to start with? 

From cautionary tales of metrics undermining businesses, to the need for more rigour in selecting what to track: this issue takes a deep dive into more thoughtful ways to approach metrics.

In this month's curation we also look at the future of supermarket technology, the business story (and user centred approach) that contributed to TikTok's meteoric rise, and how origami can help us gain a clear view of business ecosystems.

I'd love to hear what you think of this issue. A reply to this email will reach my inbox.

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Catch you next time.

Tom Prior
Curator of Designers in Business
The quote
"By listening – really listening – design can build empathy with parts of an organisation that it typically struggles with: sales, executives, engineering.

But, as a discipline that quickly hones in on problems, be them organisational or otherwise, design tries to problem solve."
The sources
Our monthly spotlight on the people and organisations providing great business content on the regular. Ones to follow, bookmark, and support.
For abridged tales of how famous businesses succeed and stand out from the competition, Business Breakdowns is an enjoyable listen. Their assessment of Calm is a great place to start.

Business Breakdowns podcast cover image
Tom's talk at the recent UX Fest Strategy & Business conference really resonated with me. Author of Articulating Design Decisions, there's plenty to learn from Tom's pragmatic approach.

Photo of Tom Greever
We've explored the Circular Economy in previous newsletters. Follow The Ellen MacArthur Foundation to stay up to date with circular opportunities, case studies and business models.
Logo for the Ellen MacArthur Foundation
The deep dive
Thoughtful approaches to business metrics
In this edition we cast a critical eye on metrics, an area of complexity which is increasingly part of design's remit. No longer just the concern of those in sales, analytics or growth teams, designers are expected to know how their work can move the needle on key business measurements.

But are we optimising our designs for the right reasons? What could be the unintended consequences of prioritising flawed measures of success?
Illustration of a business person behind images of metric chart
Image copyright HBR (by Mike McQuade)
If there were ever a cautionary tale of chasing a solitary (and misguided) metric, it's Wells Fargo's devastating failures which came to light in 2017. It was a financial scandal which rocked American business with repercussions still being felt by the organisation.

This excellent HBR piece explores the controversy and it's root cause: surrogation. When a businesses vision or strategy lacks clarity, metrics fill a gap to reassure us we're on the right track. This is surrogation, a phenomenon every organisation should look to avoid through clear strategy and strong business alignment.
Sketch of an upward trendline graph with a question mark
Image courtesy of: Ryan S
This short post gets to the crux of key problems with putting too much stock in popular, easy to measure metrics. Ryan highlights the need for product teams to be data informed rather than data driven, and that understanding the context behind data is just as important as the data itself.
Screenshot of article about busting the myths about innovation metrics
This excellent article also echoes the need to measure outcomes over outputs. Barry highlights how standard, popular metrics stifle innovation: using lagging rather than leading indicators to learn about real customer behaviour.

He also covers a key piece of recurring advice - the value of tracking multiple (success and failure) metrics simultaneously. 
The technique
Invented by Hitachi Design Centre, Business Origami is a design technique for visualising complex business systems.

Teams use paper shapes to represent people, props, places and products in a system. The scenes created help teams clearly visualise and act out the steps, actors and complexities to be designed for.

It also acts to highlight previously unrepresented actors who could be impacted by a system's design.
Photo of a business origami scene
Image courtesy of: Chenghan (Hank) Ke
The event
Lizz Horvath - UX: Two Truths & a Lie
Weds 30th June at 6pm CST, hosted by STLX
Managing business stakeholders is a recurring theme of this newsletter. This event featuring Lizz Horwath offers an experienced perspective on this ongoing challenge.

You'll need to move quickly to catch this event live (it's tomorrow if you read this newsletter on the day it's sent).
Advert image for STLX event titled UX: Two Truths and a lie, with Lizz Horvath
The future of business
Future Supermarkets: Scan Purchase for Maximum Score
Podcast by Tomorrow Unlocked

The supermarket space is ripe for innovation. Brave brands have the opportunity to stand out by offering unique (and hopefully useful) experiences to shoppers.

Featuring a guest appearance from Clearleft's design researcher Benjamin Parry, this episode of Fast Forward podcast explores future concepts with potential business and consumer benefit. Benjamin highlights particularly interesting opportunities for consumers to make ethical and sustainable choices, unlocking new business value along the way.
Screenshot of Tomorrow Unlocked website page for podcast episode about the future of supermarkets
The language
What is... EBITDA

EBITDA stands for Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization. One of the most widely used financial metrics, it is seen as a particularly 'clean' way of assessing an organisations accounts.

Why? Because a lot of financial complexities (such as how a company is funded, handles debt, or is locally taxed) are stripped away as part of it its calculation. This provides a normalised view of a business's ability to generate revenue.

This neutral assessment makes it much easier to compare two organisation's cash flow potential, making it particularly popular with investors.
The listen
Foundering: The TikTok Story
Podcast by Bloomberg

In a world full of silicon valley social tech unicorns, TikTok is something of an outlier. In this fascinating multi-part podcast series from Bloomberg, we learn about the Chinese tech giant's origins, pivots, and how it's founder took unusually proactive steps in pursuit of user-centric product innovation.
Banner advert for Foundering podcast
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Thanks! Tom - Curator of Designers in Business
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