5 steps to design value

Five steps to measure the benefit of design

Understanding the type of design work you get from each client is critical to your success. Is it all transactional? Does the client give a good brief? Does the client ask for advice? Does the client involve you in the planning stages of a project? Analysing a client in this way will help you move them into a business partner rather than a supplier. There is a way to do this; it’s called the design ladder.

The Design Ladder was developed by the Danish Design Centre (DDC) in 2003 as a tool to measure the level of design activity in Danish businesses. The Ladder, used as a framework for a survey, was the first step in developing a method to assess the economic benefits of design in Denmark. The Danish Design Ladder has four stages that rate a businesses use of design.

The DBC Design Ladder

We first started using the design ladder in 2015 and soon modified it to five steps. We’ve been using the ladder in our workshops and it’s now one of the tools introduced in the our mentoring.

Step 5 Design integration

At this level the client wants design in every part of the business. Project estimates are outcomes based with less emphasis on the outputs that achieve the outcomes. The client wants a value case for design to make them design centric. The designer works across all business units in a design value chain. There are very few Australian businesses that work at this level. International examples include Apple, Netflix and Airbnb.

The designer will typicaly work on developing business cases for products or divisions, product and customer research, CX and UX research, strategy development, design and evaluation.

Step 4 Design to solve business problems

Design drives all business activities to better understand user needs. Australian research shows that only 4 per cent of businesses are at this step. These businesses have a strategic concept of design use. Design is at the core of their business culture. Client is focused on an outcome and wants advice on the deliverables. Here the designer is usually involved in CX research and developing user experience.

Koko Black is an example of a company at this level. The company strives to create a world-class chocolate experience, a process that involves design throughout the business. Where necessary, Koko Black draws on external design expertise, engaging international innovators to develop product lines and processes.

Step 3 Design consultancy

Design is used to improve efficiency in bringing products and services to market. These businesses are actively using design to bring new products and services to market. Approximately 15 per cent of Australian businesses are on the third step. At this level designers have developed a relationship with the client. This is important because it allows a more strategic partnership.

SKM (now Jacobs) is an example of a company at this level. As a leading projects firm, with global capability in strategic consulting, engineering and project delivery SKM uses design thinking to explore ways to improve the processes used in their projects.

Step 2 Design as a styling solution

The use of design is primarily oriented towards the form and aesthetics of products and/or services. Nine per cent of Australian businesses were found to use design for styling products or the positioning and branding of the company and its services. The client is usually very prescriptive based on brand guidelines. Jobbing design work rather than a relationship.

Step 1 Design as a commodity

Design plays a negligible role in the company’s business. The work is usually transactional with minimal briefing beyond the basic requirements. The majority of Australia’s 2.4 million companies are in this category on the bottom step of the ladder. They are ineffective users of design.

The take away point

Use this information to analyse your clients and how they use design. Don’t ignore those at Step 1, they can give a boost to cashflow and good training for juniors. Chase those at Step 5. Encourage those at Stages 2 and 3 to use design tools such as customer journey mapping, empathy mapping and service blueprints.

Contact Greg if you would like help to analyse where your clients fit on the design ladder.

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These articles also talk about how to attract clients:

  1. What clients want to hear in a pitch
  2. What clients want from designers
  3. Results from a client survey

Greg Branson

Design Business Council
Greg’s passion is the research and development of methods that 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 along with a series of workshops that show designers how to use these tools.

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