It’s 2016. You will hear a LOT about Growth Driven Design in the next year or two. And just like any other new methodology, there will be honest practitioners, and there will be the inevitable posers who ride the coattails of whatever is trending online, and who will beat the drum loudly but have no way of backing up their claims of how great they are at it.
Again, I repeat: you will experience a deluge of Growth Driven Design (GDD) content, some of it from people that have no business selling it. So let’s figure out what this is all about and see if it works for your company. This blog post will define Growth Driven Design, why it should matter to you, and provide some guidelines for choosing the proper agency.
Number One: Let’s Define Growth Driven Design.
Easier said than done.
I have not found an official definition. While there are at least a dozen sites that have articles written about it, as well as three eBooks, I found very few that offered up what I would consider a definition in the classic sense. Surprisingly, the company that apparently invented this methodology did not include a definition of what it is in their own eBook about GDD.
Here are the best examples I found:¹
Definition number one, from Woo Marketing:
Growth Driven Design (GDD) focuses on the continuous improvement of your site. This lowers the time and cost involved in improving websites via a re-design, – a sprint rather than a marathon – and aligns sales and marketing.
Definition number two, from Meticulosity:
Growth-driven design (GDD), or sometimes called “incremental design” – is a departure from traditional design projects that have a finite beginning and end. Instead of attempting to define the entire scope of a project, doing the redesign, then launching and walking away – GDD is a continuous cycle of design – research – improve
Growth-driven design (GDD) is a marketing-focused web design methodology that incorporates an agile, scrum-like process of continually improving user experience and site functionality.
I am far from being an expert or historian on this matter, but this is what I know about the development of growth driven design. Sometime in 2012, Nick Disabato has an insanely great idea to offer specialized, ongoing UX design, A/B testing, and other services to his clients, and creates a service called Draft, and later Draft Revise. Others follow suit, and in 2014 Media Junction sees the value in providing continual web design services to clients. They experiment, have success, and they go on to write “An Introduction to Growth Driven Design.” GDD is born.
So this idea isn’t entirely new. For instance, the company I used to do work for in the early-to-mid 2000s practiced a form of this methodology. We were always tweaking our site, adding new content and redesigning our pages to help conversions and improve user experience Since our content was always changing and our marketing was always evolving, our site evolved along with it.
What IS new is that marketing companies have created a packaged service and are presenting it to the public-at-large. That’s not a bad thing, because in most cases it is a great methodology that really improves the web design process for clients. It is less painful, it relieves the pressure of tight deadlines and “getting it right the first time” stress.
What this means to you
Instead of bringing in a traditional agency and going through the traditional process, paying a large lump sum, and then leaving your site alone for two or three years and repeating the process over and over, the GDD methodology emphasizes a process to continually improve your site.
Traditional Web Process vs. GDD methodology:
infographic from growthdrivendesign.com
Also, GDD can eliminate some of the risks when dealing with a traditional web redesign:
infographic from growthdrivendesign.com
The Bottom Line
How does Growth Driven Design benefit you versus the traditional web design process? HubSpot does a good job of outlining the benefits in this infographic:
infographic from HubSpot
From the infographics above we can surmise that it will:
- most likely cost you less overall, and will even out your cash flow
- GDD will also get you started faster,
- and the scrum-like, rapid iteration environment can give you rapid improvements over a shorter period of time.
These are real improvements in the process. What is not so clear is the “Validated Results” vs. “Only a Hypothesis” argument. This dichotomy may not be an argument at all, because everyone has the ability incorporate Google Analytics and gather data on their site. As awesome as HubSpot is—and believe me not only do I drink the Kool-aid, I am certified to sell it—you can gather valuable, measurable data using Google Analytics and other add-on 3rd party applications to your CMS. I would not underestimate the power of CMS platforms like WordPress and the plethora of information and data-gathering apps now available. So the GDD “measurable results” vs. traditional “no results” argument is a little weak. For many years now I have held the belief that the ultimate web design success is the result in increased sales and positive growth, so I make sure that my clients can track the data even though they might not using HubSpot or engaging in GDD from me. I know that there are many creative and design agencies out there that can’t give you analytics and measurable results, but that is more of an agency philosophy problem, not a “traditional vs. GDD methodology” problem.
Some GDD practitioners state one of the main problems of traditional web design is that there is no prototype, and therefore there isn’t user testing, and lacks a trial and error phase when problems can be ironed out. This was certainly true before 2011. But as methodologies evolved over time, agencies adopted agile methodologies like Scrum to iterate designs more rapidly and gather feedback throughout the entire process. Now, any agency worth their salt creates a staging environment and receives continual feedback from the client on the proposed designs through low and high-fidelity mockups. Many create a minimum viable product and work up from there.
This is a collaborative process. Clients can invite as many users as they wish, and if there are significant changes/enhancements that need to be made as a part of that discovery process, changes are made. If they are outside the scope of the original proposal, they deal with it at that time. I’ve never had a client refute this process, so the “no prototype” argument falls a little short.
One of the other issues I have is with the emphasis on getting a site up quickly. Some recommend a 30 to 60-day launch. That sounds great, and I’m sure it works for many small businesses, startups, and other companies that simply need a conventional site. But if you are looking for something more custom, more sophisticated, and different than the typical web layout, you need to team up with a company that has a track record of making unique, sophisticated sites using a real process and actually executing these projects on time and on budget. Mule Design is an excellent example of this.
“Certain things will take the time they will take. The popular saying is that you can’t throw nine women at a baby and get it in a month.”
Designing a custom site is like building a house. It is complicated, and a lot of the look and structure depend on the intended function. What if your home contractor tells you that they will finish it in 30 to 60 days, but not to worry if the foundation isn’t right because they can go back and fix it later? How would you feel about that?
Although it is good practice to develop a minimum viable product for evaluation within a short time, in no way should we confuse that with a finished, published site. A successful site design is the result of the use of—and adherence to—a framework that produces good results. And promising a live site in 30 to 60 days can short-circuit the process, resulting in a compromised site. Establishing the vision, the why, the how, asking questions that need to be answered, researching, formulating hypotheses, developing a number of solutions are things that take time. And as Mike Monteiro—one of the foremost authorities on web design—writes, “certain things will take the time they will take. The popular saying is that you can’t throw nine women at a baby and get it in a month.”
This is especially true for web design. Just because someone promises that you get your site up faster doesn’t necessarily mean it is going to be better, or that it will even fulfill your requirements. This is doubly true for sites that have more functionality and have greater development requirements. The GDD methodology is great for companies and individuals that have conventional needs. But if you have specialized requirements, I would recommend using a framework that properly reflects the importance and complexity of your vision.
Right now GDD practitioners are mostly—if not exclusively—inbound marketing agencies that are HubSpot partners. They are excellent marketing companies that have a refined process for getting results. But not all of them can—nor would want to be—classified as design agencies. For them, GDD works well because they have created another retainer model that they can sell to their clients, and in most cases this is great because it is a good model and a solid methodology for marketing and design.
The downside is that you might agree to a long-term retainer with a company that doesn’t have extensive web design experience—and dare I say—may not even have a web designer or UX person on staff. So it pays to determine your needs beforehand. It seems that this model would be a good fit for small-to-medium sized businesses, companies that don’t have heavy functionality / user interface elements, marketing companies, and solopreneurs who productize and sell things online.
Guidelines for choosing the right agency:
So if you have determined that you are the right fit for Growth Driven Design, how do you choose the right agency? We have a basic checklist that you can use to guide your decisions. Although far form comprehensive, this list will get you on the right track to choosing the proper agency.
Questions for potential agency partners
How long have they been practicing GDD?
Do they have GDD case studies available?
Do they have references that you can talk to?
How many full-time designers and developers do they have on staff?
- Have them describe their process
Do we have the resources and agility to go through a 30-60 day scrum to complete our launch pad site?
Is our team familiar with a Scrum-like process?
How big is our site? How many visitors do we have? How many resources are available on it?
Do we have a complicated web infrastructure or any heavy functionality / user interface elements that need more time to analyze, hypothesize, and test?
- With few exceptions, if I am looking for a seriously impressive site with a lot of visual credibility, I would not have a marketing company do my website. They are good at marketing. Not web design. From the dozen or so articles on GDD that I read, only a handful of those agencies actually employed a full-time web designer, and only one site mentioned UX. An agency that does both marketing and creative design really well is a very rare find (unless you’ve found an agency like Media Junction or PCR, where founder Drew Himel believes in the importance of design and who employs an actual creative director that’s versed in UX.)
- Don’t listen to experts who aren’t. If you are reading content about GDD from someone who has never spent one day as a UX designer, take it with a grain of salt.
Growth Driven Design is a framework that can be a useful tool for optimizing your web presence and providing constant improvement to your site. Although it sounds like a perfect solution, you should be careful to note its limitations, and understand your needs, because agencies typically have one thing that they do really well, not three. If you want a well-designed site, choose the agency that does design really well. “Full-service,” “integrated” agencies that tell you that they do everything well are probably not being truthful. It is important to choose your potential agencies wisely, ask questions about their process, look at their record of work, talk to their current clients, and determine whether or not this will prove to be a valuable investment of your time and money.
Have questions about Growth Driven Design, Inbound Marketing, or digital marketing in general? Drop me a line or give me a shout on social media. I have many resources available to help you.
¹ I tried to use the definition of Growth Driven Design from Growthdrivendesign.com, but curiously found no definition anywhere on the index page of the site, but instead found a button placed in three different places to get the definition, which then led to a form to enter my email address to watch a webinar of what GDD is. In exchange for getting to learn the definition of Growth Driven Design, I guess I had to give them my email to be entered into a database of leads who expressed interest in GDD. My inbox is already full, so I just went somewhere else for the definition :)
² Web design, especially when talking UX / UI, is a science. Just for reference, check out UXPin, a company that makes web design software. They have a guide to UX that’s 110 pages long, and that’s just for the UX design process and documentation. The UXPin library has 73 publications on Web Design, Interaction design, UX and UI. It is a complicated discipline, and one that takes years to master. Even though you may want to get your site up quickly and not deal with the messy details of the process, it will greatly benefit you to at least find a partner that actually *has* a process, and is an expert at walking you through it. You will be glad you put in the extra effort.