Convincing clients design has value

Over the past decade we’ve focused our creative business coaching on methods to prove design value to clients. We’ve researched ways to persuade clients to the point they become design advocates.

The challenge is, there is no right way. It will come as no surprise different ways work for different clients

Design value proposition explains how design has value

In our creative business coaching, a tool we use often to explore design business models is the Design Business Model Canvas. It focuses on a design value proposition (DVP) to show clients why they should value design

We consider a DVP a key element for any creative business wanting to demonstrate how design adds value – it’s like a mini-case study. A DVP describes the value-adds a creative business can offer to a client and then demonstrates them with an example.

That’s great because outcomes are often not clear when designers talk to their clients. Just the process of developing the DVP unlocks value-adds and gives you words to describe them to a client.

The big question is how do you put a dollar value on the return from design investment?

Measuring the value of design

The Design Management Institute has long been a champion of selling design value but even they admit it’s difficult to define the dollar value of design. They recognise design is hard to isolate as a function within an organisation and even when you can, the design function operates differently in each industry. That makes benchmarking extremely difficult.

Our solution was to introduce a Design Maturity approach to our creative business coaching. A design maturity index measures the use of design across the whole business and then rates the use based on a design ladder.

The design ladder is perfect because it is a multi-disciplinary, global measurement tool for design maturity.
It’s commonly used in MBA courses – it’s the language client’s talk

Design maturity research proves design has value

In 2019 we invited ten Australian design leaders and their key client to participate in research to prove the value of design.

The Design Maturity research was conducted in face-to-face meetings, firstly with the design studio owners, and then often with their clients. In some cases, further research within the organisation was needed to complete the information.

The report showed three corporate design trends:

  • UX design dominates growth of the design profession.
    Many employers, from the board to the communications and marketing areas, more readily recognised the value UX and UI added to their product or service.
  • Significant investment in design transforms businesses.
    The research proved design, particularly human-centred design methods, increased employee, and customer satisfaction. These are a proven financial return-on-investments. Happier employees tend to stay longer, saving the expense and time of onboarding new employees — a considerable financial cost to all clients. Similarly happier customers tend to be part of a repeat and loyal customer base. Repeat customers are easily identified.
  • Creative businesses have new competitors.
    New design business models have been developed by the likes of Deloitte and Accenture. They have recognised these trends and approached their clients offering design services which has taken business from privately-owned creative businesses.


Successful creative businesses are not selling design, they’ve reinvented themselves as a value-add business.

The UX, CX Human Centred Design (HCD) movement is recognised by clients as value-adds. Traditionally, designers have always used UX, CX, HCD but not labelled the services (after all what is design if it’s not human centred?).

Use research and introspection to turn your creative business into a value-add business with offers clients identify easily as offering a return on investment.

Understanding and explaining how traditional designers can repackage their skills is a major focus in our creative business coaching.

What do you think? Got any problems/questions? As always, happy to discuss further, just email.

Greg Branson

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Want more?

These articles talk more about value-add in design:

  1. More about the Design Maturity Research
  2. More about the Design Business Model Canvas
  3. More about our roles as a creative business coach

About Greg Branson

Greg is a creative business coach. He researches and develops methods to improve design management and the role of design in business.

Greg has developed a series of processes and tools to help designers manage their business better. He does that face to face and by online business coaching, specialising in small business mentoring.

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