• Saurabh Sharma

When design principles meet the marketing funnel

Learning design starts with understanding many principles. There are quite a few principles out there and they are growing. On top of this, different companies have their own set of design principles that are specifically suited for their needs.


Ever-growing list of design principles and rules


As students of Human Computer Interaction and Design, we are learning design so that we can create new products, solutions, ideas and break new ground. However, with so many design principles to follow, I’m wondering how many principles and rules are too many rules?  This triggered a discussion in our design class and here’s what we concluded.

In real world business situations, in order for us to know how often we can break design rules, we need to be aware of at least two things:

  1. The kind of business we are designing for

  2. The stage of customer engagement we are designing for

Allow me to explain. By kind of business I mean:

  • Is the business a leader in its industry or a follower?

  • Is it a big company or a small?

  • Is it growing rapidly, steadily or struggling?

  • Is the source of revenue linked with surprising users or is it linked with delivering a consistent user experience, and if it’s both then when are we designing to surprise and when are we designing for consistency?

Answers to these questions shape the design culture of a business. For example (and usually) a fast-growing leading business, in a dynamic market could be trying many new things just to see what works and thus could be place where many design rules and principles are broken (E.g. Uber in its early years?).

On the contrary if we are designing for a follower business, that’s big and is growing steadily, we might not have the room to break many design rules (E.g. traditional insurance companies, auto majors, car companies, most of the airlines, banks, this list is long). Such businesses usually follow a playbook that is accepted in their industry.

This brings us to a third type of business. It’s possible that we find ourselves designing for a big or small company that is struggling and is desperate for a breakthrough. They might be looking at us, as a designer, to help them break their cycle of decline. (E.g. Traditional publishers). Such companies might end up adopting one of two design approaches:

  1. Borrow playbook from a successful company and design on those lines, conservatively

Or go the other way and

  1. Take risk by developing an entirely new approach to design

What they finally end up doing also depends not just on the company leadership and culture but also on us and the kind of designer we end up becoming. If we become a designer who plays safe, we’ll end up designing conservatively. However, if we develop into free-thinking designers with a burning desire to do groundbreaking work, we’ll thrive in uncertainty and embrace this situation as an opportunity to do radical work that most people only dream of.

There’s another factor that determines how many design rules we’ll break in our day job – the sales and marketing funnel. Simply put, the sales and marketing funnel segments customer engagement into various stages or levels. It starts with ‘Awareness’ - helping users/customers learn about our business (or product or service), then moves into ‘Consideration’ - persuading users/customers to consider your products etc., and then goes into ‘Conversion’ - helping people choose our product. From here on it’s a little different. After conversion, we are no longer persuading people to buy. Instead, we now have a relationship with the customer/user and we begin to focus on ‘Loyalty,’ where we encourage people to stay with our products/services and finally, move them into becoming ‘Advocates,’ who tell other potential users/customers about what’s good about our products and services.


Navigating design principles with the marketing lens on


After that brief introduction, it becomes clear that in order to be more effective as a designer in a business organization, we need to understand what stage of user engagement we are designing for. As expected, design that happens in the awareness and consideration stage of the funnel should break conventions. We need to be disruptive in our design choices here. Our goal is to charm and disarm the customer. That’s how we break the monotony of the market, attract user’s and make them consider our products. However, as we move down the funnel, the user needs fewer surprises and thus the focus moves from surprising them to serving them. In this stage our design needs to embrace values such as consistency and reliability.


Here’s a rule maker encouraging us to break some rules!


By drawing a parallel with writing, here’s how we can summarize all this. Think of design principles as ‘font choices’ in top of the funnel design decisions and think of design principles as ‘grammar’ as we go down the funnel. All this helps us in focusing our creative energies and leads to better results, both for users and for the business.

Rules are good and breaking rules is good too, but there’s nothing better than knowing when to break those rules and to what affect.

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