She works with teams to align business and customer value so growth is human-centric. Past work includes InVision, The Black Tux, Burner, Toyota, Nissan, Prosper, Joyable and Macys.com.
Lex is speaking on the Interaction Day during SofaConf, before we see him there we caught up with him on the sofa.
Thank you for joining us on the sofa, what have you been doing during this unique time?
I’ve been doing a lot of organizing around my city and state because our government hasn’t been acting fast enough to respond to needs. Along these lines, I’ve also been working on a project called LA Pays Attention which helps connect people with their local government.
You call yourself a ‘Growth Designer’ what does this mean to you?
I first heard the term growth designer from a growth marketer back in 2014. Excited to have possibly found something that described my approach to design, I immediately googled it. But there were no results. No blog posts. No talks. No job listings.
A couple years later, I decided to define and start popularizing this term in an effort to find more designers who connected design to business. We now have a sizable community around it!
I define growth design as the practice of helping businesses grow sustainably through delivering real customer value. Or put more simply, it’s a specialization for designers who want to connect their work more directly to business impact.
Can you briefly explain how your career led you to your current role
When I first started in UX, I worked at an agency. We often got clients who wanted to do a website redesign to reach a particular goal. Get more email sign ups. Sell more products. Raise more money. But rarely did they have any detailed information about how well their existing website was working towards this goal.
I couldn’t really understand how I was supposed to design with no information on what was broken so I began instrumenting analytics for our clients. This became an addictive process because I could measure the before and after of a design. Not only could I learn what needed to change about a website but I could show our clients just how much impact a design change had.
As I took on different projects, I started to get a sense of what kind of client would most benefit from my skills: growth stage companies who found their market but who had a gap or an opportunity they couldn’t reach. I decided to specialize in this area of growth.
If a designer wants to move into this space, what advice would you give them?
There is so much opportunity in growth design! If you feel compelled to connect your work to the impact it can drive, there are a lot of companies that want to hire you. I find a lot of designers shy away from this space as they worry about over measuring creativity. But your true power as a designer comes from being able to demonstrate your value.
Read about the range of growth skills you can develop and evaluate where you already have knowledge and where you need to learn more. Designers who want to have impact need to be able to, at a minimum, measure their impact. Understanding how to measure product usage (aka analytics) is a good place to start. Other skills I find essential include: a rich customer research practice and knowledge of experimentation techniques.
What would you consider is one of the most difficult challenges you’ve had as a growth designer?
In the industry at large, the biggest challenge is that growth is still mislabeled and misunderstood. There’s a lot of confusion about what growth means and growth design is even more nuanced than growth in general. To just quickly clarify that, growth as a practice is the intentional focus of resources on growing your business. Growth design is that same idea but leveraging design as a key instrument.
On a project level, the biggest challenge by far is that most companies barely have a data practice, let alone a set of data that is clean and readable. You can’t grow a business without a clear sense of how it’s doing. Very often, I end up starting a project by cleaning up existing data tools and practices. It’s a bit like buying a bunch of new clothes and trying to put them away in a packed, disorganized closet. You have to clean it out first.
What are you currently working on?
I’m working on a mix of projects and skill development. On the project side, I’ve actually been working with earlier stage companies to help them run experiments to find their market and their message. On the skill development side, I’ve been running some new workshops for teams. I have a product analytics class that came out this year. And I do some coaching and writing to help designers learn more about business and analytics.
What challenges are you facing at the moment and what are you doing to overcome them?
The biggest challenge I’m facing right now is staying in alignment with my values while working with mostly private, well-funded corporations. With all the news that comes out every day on the actions of Facebook, Amazon or Google, I think quite often about the tradeoffs of growth for humanity. Where is the line where growth becomes bad? For a company that is just out of its start up phase and is now financially stable, it can be hard to play forward the future. They could be good or neutral right now and as they grow, they could make decisions that risk human lives.
Ultimately, I care about the impact of design. I believe everyone should have access to thoughtful design, not just those with money. I would like to take these techniques into the social good space and I’m constantly thinking about how I can best do that.
What do you see as the biggest opportunity for designers right now?
Taking back their power! If you believe design is valuable, prove it. Together, we can make it clear exactly how design drives impact. When we achieve this, we bring design to the forefront of creating change.
How do you define success of a project?
I used to define success as moving the metric we set out to move in a way that offers a positive customer experience.
Now, my definition includes getting the team engaged and excited about this way of working. It’s more fun to work on things that matter. I always aim to leave teams feeling empowered to do meaningful work.
There have been many book clubs that have arisen over the last few weeks. If you had to select 5 books for a book club, what would they be and why?
I used to run a UX book club in LA. But unfortunately, I don’t read as much as I used to. Here are five books I’d like to read:
Monetizing Innovation by Madhavan Ramanujam and Georg Tacke
This book has been on several lists about how to price products and I feel like it may hold the keys to several pricing quandaries I’ve had lately.
Design-Driven Growth by Molly Norris Walker
Molly Norris Walker wrote UX Design for Growth and this is a new edition. To my knowledge, her books are the only ones that exist on growth design. It’s refreshing to read about business and growth strategy from a design perspective.
Testing Business Ideas by David J. Bland and Alex Osterwalder
This is a visual field guide to experimentation. I recommend it to all founders and product makers. It’s a great desk reference but it also makes for a fun discussion because it’s full of actionable advice.
This is actually a catalog from a Cooper Hewitt Museum show but it includes a range of design work from graphics to architecture along with essays on designing for humanity.
Forever Employable by Jeff Gothelf
A lot of people are struggling to find work they love. Jeff Gothelf explains how to cultivate the work you want based on his experience doing so.
What are you going to be talking about at SofaConf?
I’m going to share an overview of what growth design is and the essential skills to practice it. We’ll cover everything from how to find high value opportunities to how to test your ideas.
Even if you don’t see yourself getting involved with growth, knowing how to define and measure your impact is an essential life skill. In my talk, I’ll break down some of the techniques you should know to be able to measure your success.