Design effectiveness

You can’t measure design

That’s what some people tell me but I think that design leaders should be championing design effectiveness.

In my work with design studio owners I often get push back when I talk about measuring design effectiveness.

I think in part this push back is due to a misunderstanding of ‘design effectiveness’.  They think that it’s all about putting a dollar figure on design investment.

Design effectiveness needs to become part of studio culture first, then it can be extended to being part of the clients’ culture.

Clients will get the best out of design when it’s part of their DNA; when they understand that it’s as important as financial and marketing measures. And there’s the rub. The designers traditional offer of outputs (website, collateral, brand) is far removed from what businesses want – outcomes (increased sales, better reputation, customer loyalty, staff loyalty). Designers often feel they are not equipped to talk about business outcomes yet they intuitively think about outcomes when designing but then sell and deliver outputs.

So what can design effectiveness measure?

The most obvious answer is to talk about monetary gain but there are many other measures. It can measure how the project met the budget, any improvements of reputation, hitting timelines/deadlines, increasing customer loyalty, improving staff satisfaction etc. These are all standard marketing metrics.

As Raymond Turner, a design effectiveness advocate and Principal, Raymond Turner Associates puts it:

“Design effectiveness is made up of two complementary skills or sets of activities: design leadership and design management. These are very different things. If design leadership is about defining corporate futures, design management is about providing the tools or the means for getting there – realising those futures. Design Effectiveness provides a clear and practical link between the decisions of the Board Room and the day to day activities of the business.”

How to build a design effectiveness culture in the studio

We can’t expect clients to suddenly start asking about design effectiveness. Most still see design as an expense not a revenue generator. To make this shift we begin in the studio with projects that have a clear statement of strategic intent that shows the financial targets, where the client is in the market and where they want to be.

This has to be supported by a customer focus. Most clients claim this position and it’s up to the designer to realise (and measure) it. Setting out a clear path to measuring customer satisfaction is the key here. You could measure customer satisfaction before and after, increases in customer loyalty schemes or reduction in help requests.

This obviously has to be realised with well-crafted design that is obviously connected to the strategic intent.

This pathway drives the change in the clients’ thinking about design effectiveness.

Design effectiveness threatens

Design effectiveness can be measured and that makes some designers and clients uncomfortable because it makes them accountable. However, design managers and leaders have to show that the clients’ money is effectively spent to produce positive business outcomes.

Take away

Begin by developing a design effectiveness culture within your studio. Make it a part of EVERY project even it begins as a small part.


Greg Branson

Contact Greg Branson if you would like to learn more about the many programs the DBC offers.

SUBSCRIBE: Subscribe to get Design Business Review, Australia’s only online design management magazine.

Greg Branson

Greg’s passion is the research and development of methods that improve design management and the role of design in business.

Greg has developed The Design Business School to help owners manage their business better along with showing designers how to get more involved in the studio and develop their career path. Contact Greg.