Is design worth it

Showing the worth of design

One of the reasons for publishing The business of design is our belief that Australia needs to increase productivity through the use of business and design strategy. Our research showed it’s happening in Australia but not to the level it should be.

To examine this we ask if clients can see the value of spending on design; can they see a return? Asking this at the outset is the most important step in proving how design changes made to a product or service can deliver a gain for the client and customer.

A gain might be a hard, definable measure such as sales, footfall or market share; but it might also be a ‘softer’ measure such as brand awareness, public perception or even staff morale, if the design project is about internal communications and branding, for example. Often it will be a combination of both types of impact.

Defining gains

The soft measures are harder to quantify but are still measurable using before and after research, which means it’s important to plan early and define exactly what you want to measure.

Here are just a few possible ‘returns’ that a client may want a design project to deliver:

  • Rebranding shift – to change perceptions or to compete with a rival product or service
  • Increased visitors or footfall and the corresponding sales increase
  • Longer dwell time and the corresponding sales increase
  • Clearer information on forms and leaflets – therefore fewer calls to customer helplines
  • Use of more sustainable materials
  • Innovation or conceptual research leading to possible new products
  • Increased product sales or market share

This short list is illustrative of the range of possible ‘returns’ that might define a successful design project. The final one, ‘increased product sales or market share’, is often the ultimate goal. But not always: a company may want to use sustainable materials because of their wider benefits even if sales remain static; or a public sector body may wish to improve public understanding of an issue, without gaining any direct revenue.

Defining design spend

Similarly, design spend can be defined in different ways. Paying your design fees is just part of the investment in a design project. Implementation is an unavoidable cost in most projects, for example, and overall investment includes all sorts of other factors, perhaps including:

  • Cost of materials/goods
  • Possible changes to manufacturing processes
  • Research costs
  • Process change costs
  • Distributions costs
  • Staff time spent on a project
  • Write-offs of old materials/products
  • Other sales, marketing and promotional activity

Projects that rely on time and materials are much easier to measure than service projects. Cost inputs in manufacturing are closely monitored by most businesses and then can calculate the return on investment. However most design studios have a large number of service clients where the the costs are less tangible. A Service Blueprint can be used to measure cost inputs and gains (financial or human centred).

A service blueprint approach

By breaking down the business model across customer touchpoints you can define input costs and where to reduce them. This will also show where revenue can be added while creating value for the customer.

This method integrates business modelling and the design process. We are using service design to understand and improve the customer experience and measure the flow of money in the service.

It gives the opportunity to zoom into a single interaction or pull back and look at a series of interactions. This helps clients prioritise where to spend their money, and analyse the service value proposition. Ultimately this will show the worth of design.

Take away

Proving design worth will allow you to gain higher fees that are pegged to better results for a client.
Develop a strategy to show design value is part of a design value proposition that you prepare when developing a design business model canvas.

If you would to learn more about developing an RODI approach contact Greg Branson.

Greg Branson

We help designers build a more profitable design business

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• supporting creatives to learn management skills
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• increasing your studio’s productivity, and
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Want more?

These articles give more information on service design and design blueprints:

  1. What is a Service Blueprint?
  2. Service design tools
  3. How to do service blueprints with examples.

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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