How Growth Driven Design Works in the Real World

By Ashlee Rolkowski on February 27, 2020

Growth Driven Design has been a buzzword in the marketing community for the past several years. And on paper, it’s easy to understand why. Growth Driven Design (GDD) is a website design approach developed by HubSpot's Luke Summerfield. It relieves two major pain points of the traditional process. One, it values data over assumptions. That means your money is being used to make informed changes and upgrades to your site. Two, it produces a new website faster than the traditional process.

With GDD, you aren’t spending all your money upfront on a theory with no data to base it on or prove that it worked. You’re making incremental improvements over time that are based on data, pain points and business goals.

Most marketing teams have modified the Growth Driven Design methodology to work for them (us included!), but the original idea hinged on a “launch pad” website. With traditional website design, you wait six months to get an entire website built out and hope it works. With the GDD model, a launch pad site contains three to five redesigned pages that can go live in three months. The criteria for the quality of your new launch pad site isn't a "perfect" product. Rather, it's meant to be better than what you have and provide data that will inform future decisions on the site.

That's a win for clients. They get a new site faster than a traditional website design process allows, and they aren’t wasting money on assumptions. Sound like a smarter approach? On paper, it looks like GDD is the best thing to ever happen to the web design process. But the truth is, it's more nuanced than that.

Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of good things about GDD. Our agency employs many GDD principles and methods when we begin a website project. But GDD's on-paper approach doesn't always translate to the real world. And because of this, every agency has created their own unique GDD process. Despite this, the concepts introduced by GDD still hold true.

So let’s dig into what GDD is and is not, and decide if it’s the right approach for you.

What Growth Driven Design Is... and Is Not

GDD Is Lower Risk and Adaptive

GDD’s big claim to fame is being lower risk than traditional web design. And that is totally true. When you go through a traditional website redesign, you're completing each phase of the process sequentially. You can’t move to the next one before solidifying the one before it. But what if you get to the end and realize that an assumption you made in the discovery phase was incorrect? Then everyone gets feisty because “we already went through this,” and the project gets delayed, budgets spiral and no one is happy. The marketing agency is frustrated, the client is upset — no one wins.

But in GDD, you move through each phase strategically, pivoting based on results. This is called the “Continuous Improvement” process. You launch a page based on your fundamental assumptions, then you evaluate how it’s performing based on user data. Then you make changes and do it all again. This is great because let’s face it: things change. Your priorities shift, an opportunity arises and an assumption you had wasn’t wasn’t perfect, or maybe a new trend arouse. The GDD approach is designed to absorb those things as they happen, instead of waiting for the next big redesign. That might sound like a longer commitment. After all, a traditional website design might take three to six months, but at least it's done when it's done. That's true. But when you finally finish your website redesign, something about your business is bound to have changed. GDD takes this inevitability into account and provides a lean process to address those shifts as they happen. It's a longer commitment, but it's a plan that provides consistent adaptability to the needs of your company.

GDD Takes Less Time, But...

The speed of GDD is dependent on a ton of factors. But the reason GDD is hailed as a quick solution is dependent on this “launch pad” website. The thing is, not every business is content with a launch pad website. A launch pad site does not have every feature you need, or thing you need, off the bat. It is a minimum viable product (MVP) that performs better than what you had previously and uses data to improve after you launch it.

The key phrase here is “better than what you had.” Not every company is content with better; they want all the bells and whistles upfront. And that’s okay. But it also means a pure GDD approach isn’t right for you. Here are some of the things that a launch pad site doesn’t do:

  1. Redesign Every Page All at Once - Not every page gets redesigned upfront. A new header and footer are often implemented across all pages, but only three to five pages will be redesigned before launch. Depending on the size of your site and the importance of auxiliary pages, this could be a benefit or a problem.
  2. Include Every Feature - Not every feature will be included off the bat. If there is a feature you want, but isn’t a “mission-critical” piece of your website, it will likely be added to a "wishlist." The wishlist is full of items that you want to have, but don't need immediately. These are prioritized and completed throughout the ongoing “Continuous Improvement” process of a GDD site.
  3. End at Three Months - The GDD process is built around optimizing and improving your website over time. So, even though you have a redesigned website up in a shorter period of time than the traditional approach, it’s expected that you continue developing and improving that site over time. 
  4. Cut Through Red Tape - If we’re honest, a lot of what slows a website redesign down is creating something that satisfies every stakeholder in your company. The bigger the company, the more stakeholders, and the more opinions are thrown into the website redesign. Sometimes these opinions are contradictory or weren’t communicated upfront for whatever reason. That’s fine, but it’s also not something that GDD or traditional web design solves for.

Continuous Improvement Based on User Data

The thing that GDD does best is use your money to improve your website performance based on continuous learning from user data. This concept comes from the lean and agile methodology that has been embraced by many different industries. In a pure GDD approach, the process for continuous improvement happens in what are called "sprint cycles."

You'll be familiar with the concept of sprint cycles if you've read anything about SCRUM. But essentially, they are defined cycles of work. This allows the two parties to agree on the tasks for a "sprint" (often one to two weeks in length) and then focus on those tasks without any auxiliary to-dos getting in the way. This helps avoid getting off track and keeps both parties in constant communication and agreement about priorities. 

After the initial launch pad site goes live, sprint cycles provide a cadence for evaluating the effectiveness of your website strategy. It involves gathering the team to brainstorm improvements and implementing the ones that will be most effective. This helps improve your inbound marketing, and website conversion where you have to continually test new methods and approaches to improve your return. You should be testing and evaluating things like:

  1. Different copy and layouts to improve conversion rates on your landing pages
  2. Different colors and verbiage on your calls to action improve click-through rates
  3. Unique copy that appeals to different buyer personas on pages that are specific to a segment of your audience
  4. Different page layouts to improve user experience
  5. Alternate marketing assets to send higher quality leads to your sales teams

With GDD, you aren’t spending all your money upfront on a theory with no data to base it on or prove that it worked. You’re making incremental improvements over time that are based on data, pain points and business goals.

This is the number one reason to use some version of a GDD approach to your website redesign. It’s a more efficient use of your money, and it offers more value to every stakeholder.

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A Blended Approach to Web Design and Development

Like I mentioned before, the GDD process looks great on paper. But when you introduce it into the real world, with all the adaptability and subjectivity that comes with working with humans, it doesn't always run as smoothly as it should. For this reason, many agencies have taken concepts and methods from GDD and blended them with their own approach.

When you boil it down, GDD amounts to two concepts: data-driven decision making and an adaptive process. This looks different for different marketing teams and different clients. Here are a couple of ways we've seen clients use the GDD approach to benefit their business:

  1. Iterative design and improvement allows clients to spread out the design process and payment for their site over a number of months. This can make it easier for many businesses to fit a much-needed redesign into their budget.
  2. The launch pad website often appeals to clients that feel like "anything is better than what we have." It allows them to put a new site in front of website visitors very quickly. Then they can work to improve it over time. 
  3. The efficiency and adaptability of Continuous Improvement appeals to many businesses who need an accessible resource like a marketing agency to constantly update and improve their website based on real data. 

Whatever the reason, GDD principles are often combined with other tactics to produce a product that meets the unique needs of a client. 

And that’s the whole point of GDD anyway, right? To be adaptive?

See what I did there?

How GDD Works in the Real World

Like most things, GDD works best when balanced with real-world factors, and those factors will vary with each company. The important part is embracing the core concepts that drive the GDD — data-driven decision making and an adaptive process. As long as you have those two things, the rest of the methodology can remain flexible and unique to each project. 

👉 Keep Reading: 5 Things Every Website Strategy Needs

Ashlee Rolkowski
Ashlee Rolkowski
Ashlee thrives on the fast-paced environment that is marketing. She gets a great deal of enjoyment out of organizing any and all things and loves helping her clients tackle their unique set of challenges.

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