Design in business = value-add

Most designers have no doubt they add value for clients.
The problem – for them, and their clients – is they can’t quantify the value.

We recently self-funded an 18 month research project about design maturity. Our research explored and developed a method to measure design activity across an organisation and assess the benefits (if any).

We interviewed personnel in 10 organisations to identify a benchmark. Design was particularly intrinsic in two of the businesses and in both cases the C suite execs admitted they knew design added value but when asked they couldn’t put a dollar value on it. We could – using specific financial results we could prove in one instance, over a 5 year period the initial design investment would have a 20 fold PROFIT payback. But it’s not all about money.

Measuring design impact

Profit is one part of the design value equation but it’s not the only measure. In the example above there was considerable improvement in staff satisfaction and retention as a result of introducing human centred design.

To truly understand design value we need to measure the financial, environmental and social impact. The challenge is most clients don’t want to spend the additional dollars it takes to do the measurement.

Another complexity is in the interaction between design abilities and the value-add. Problem is some designers only deliver the project the client requests. They don’t strive for the next level. And to be fair  the client often doesn’t want any value add. They have a predetermined dollar value and nothing the designer does will get them to see value adds.

So, the task is to identify which clients will respond to design value-add.

The value model

In our Chair program we’re using our design maturity research to help designers develop a value-add model that can be modified for different clients. The research showed which industry sectors value design. We’ve added this to a process of analysing which designers can add value.

The Chair program

The DBC Chair program is more than mentoring for design studio owners. It’s based on a board of management model common in other professional businesses – a group of industry specialists that meet regularly to work on a business quite separately to those that work in the business. Boards are managed by a Chair.

Problem is, creative studios aren’t like other professional businesses. Research shows a majority have less than three employees. That’s a micro-business able to run lean and agile with little management structure. But it also means leaders are often lonely and without support.

Sustaining a business in our competitive landscape needs management knowledge and expertise. It needs someone taking a ‘helicopter view’ while others are on the ground, dealing with the day to day dramas. Problem is, there’s not usually enough headspace, let alone cashflow to employ that expertise.

The answer is the DBC Chair program – a six-month commitment involving monthly meetings to discuss your business and your challenges.

Meetings are scheduled, have an agenda tailored to your needs and your studio, and minutes– accountability delivers results. Part of each meeting is to set (and review) measurement goals to monitor improvements. Between meetings, Greg and/or Carol are available for phone, skype or email support as needed.

It’s access to two, design management knowledge banks to help you manage your studio, plan growth and even negotiate with staff.

Just want to talk time management? Contact Carol or Greg.


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.