N26’s Head of Design on the Business Metrics of Design
Christian Hertlein shares a series of proactive, repeatable processes to connect design and user research to business.
Many roles have clear beginnings and endings: marketers launch campaigns, developers complete sprints, product managers launch features.
Designers, on the other hand, take a longer-term, iterative approach: they design, test, and modify in a continuous cycle. While this process is effective, it can also feel nebulous — how do you measure your work? What does success look like? How do you know when you’re done?
Quantifying design is a familiar challenge, especially for Christian Hertlein, the head of design at N26, a mobile-first bank that allows customers to organize their finances. While many designers rely on their colleagues to intuitively understand the business impact of design, Christian stands out. He has implemented a series of proactive, repeatable processes to connect design and business, once and for all.
“We’re here to shape the product, which also means connecting business and data,” says Christian. “We need to understand where we can have an impact and other people outside of the department need to understand that we’re not only creating beautiful pictures but that we are actually able to influence the business.”
Understanding design metrics
Quantifying design results is just one piece of the puzzle — Christian also needs to ensure his team understands the correct business goals to help inform their work.
“We always work on better understanding metrics around design. It’s very difficult to measure the design impact, but we also need to understand the metrics that we can actually look at from a business design perspective,” says Christian.
The most important business metrics for Christian revolve around the user — he believes that success is defined by serving and addressing people’s needs. So, he’s particularly focused on three metrics: engagement, activity, and conversions.
n26 design team
“I’m interested in engagement in general and we measure that on a bunch of different levels. We also look at the conversion funnel and how we as designers can act on that.”
Once they have identified which business metrics to track, Christian works with his team to understand why it’s so important for their role as designers.
“Back in the day, designers didn’t feel like they had to understand the business. But today, I believe it’s an essential part of the job if we want to contribute to the company. Either we are service providers in the second row serving the business or we are proactively making an impact.”
Complementing metrics with user research
Christian is quick to point out that these metrics don’t mean anything if you don’t have a clear understanding of the user.
“We always start from the user perspective. And it’s important to stick to and continuously inspire other people to have this mindset. Without users, we would not be able to serve anyone with our product,” he says.
For Christian’s team, this comes in the form of user research. They create digestible user personas to share with colleagues so the whole company can immediately start from the user perspective.
“User research is not just about getting validation of a concept or prototype. It’s also about having conversations with people. We need to understand the context and the industry we are in so we know where we should be and where we shouldn’t,” says Christian. “For example, when should we avoid sending a push notification? Where can we be helpful and supportive?
“This is where Framer is great — we can add real data to the prototype and personalize it down to the user. That’s when we get the kind of valuable feedback we need.”
Combine these user insights with business metrics like engagement and conversion, and you start to have a “holistic view.” According to Christian, this mentality is essential to integrating design within the rest of the company.
Connecting design across departments
While Christian believes that designers need to track business goals and principles, he also knows it goes both ways: in order for design teams to be truly successful, you also need to help the business teams understand the design side of things.
“Most people judge us based on the tangible, visual results we create. That doesn’t consider the fact that there was a long process beforehand. It’s important that we communicate this because, otherwise, we create a black box where the rest of the company doesn’t understand the work a designer does,” says Christian.
To improve transparency, he does three things: First, he created a document with his team’s principles — “why we do it, what we do, and how we do it.” This acts as a living artifact that he can share across the company to educate others about design.
Second, he fosters open communication with the main stakeholders. “If you identify the right stakeholders and create a common goal, you can be really open about what you want to accomplish together and the role design will play,” says Christian.
To identify these stakeholders, product designers work alongside product managers and engineers in sprint cycles. This set-up allows the design team to have daily interactions across functions. And, most importantly, this fosters the right kind of environment for designers to understand potential interdependencies and identify relevant stakeholders.
n26 design team ideating
The design team also works on how they communicate with stakeholders. Designers use Framer X prototypes to “build experiences that are very close to reality and create valuable stakeholder conversations.”
“It’s important to put the stakeholders into the user’s shoes, like having them complete a task or experience a scenario. Framer prototypes help us have that kind of conversation, which goes beyond pure aesthetics and focuses on the range of things UX and UI can provide,” he says.
Lastly, Christian and his team organize data workshops, business workshops, and workshops with engineers to facilitate knowledge sharing and to learn how to communicate with other teams.
“We started these workshops to understand user experience metrics. We would collaborate with our product data team to identify potential areas where we could measure the impact of design.
“This regular exchange allows us to create understanding on both sides of the business and allows for deep collaboration.” These stakeholder meetings and workshops also help the designers learn about other departments within the company. “Designers can be better at learning how to talk about their results and process. If you nerd out about typography and your audience isn’t into that, you’re going to lose them,” says Christian. “It’s important to understand who your audience is and what they’re looking for, and to have empathy with your coworkers and their needs.”
A new mindset
Christian’s approach may be unique, but he urges all design teams to find a way to get closer to business teams and metrics.
“It doesn’t matter what kind of company you work in, you need to understand what is happening around you.”
Not sure where to start? Christian recommends adopting a specific mindset.
“Empathy must be the foundation. You must be empathetic not only towards the users you are serving but also toward the inner workings of your company and your co-workers. Stay curious when understanding the business perspective and integrate your learnings into your process.”