Return on Design

We designers believe that good design is a good return on investment, not only in product design and branding, but in facilities design as well. But quantifying this in hard numbers has, so far as I know, pretty much eluded us. In part this is because the power of design is complex and subjective, making it difficult to quantify. In part it’s because we are designers, not accountants. In part it’s because the idea that design matters from a business perspective appears to be a relatively new thought, at least in a world driven primarily by balance sheets.

Bill Breen posted an interesting discussion on this topic on Fast Company’s website on July 26th. He reports on a conversation he had with Rob Wallace of Wallace Church Inc., a package-design company that works with large companies. Arguing that good design represents a good return on investment, Wallace says:

I’m confident that if the ROI on design was truly measured, design would come out quite well, and it would be treated by the finance side as the adult it now wants to be. The ROI on design is not only a tool for showing design’s true value, it can also show how and when design can be most critically used as a tool to continually generate the highest profits.

I’m confident of this as well, instinctively. I can’t boast the 15 or so years of experience trying to quantify the effects of design that Wallace and others can, but I somehow know it to be so. Think about being in a place where you wish you could work. Is it a uniformly-lighted beige box put up at the lowest cost or does it have interesting lighting, shapes, and color? Why is the Apple iPod the market leader when competing devices deliver similar functionality? Good design speaks quality and dependability and this image is bound to positively impact a company’s bottom line.

Wallace goes on to note that designers aren’t stepping up to play the corporate numbers game and, as a result, are missing an opportunity to convince corporations of the value of design. It’s true that when designers do step up, they can accomplish a lot. Look at what visionaries Bill McDonough and Michael Braungart were able to accomplish by convincing corporate giants of the value of sustainablility. Yes, we designers are overworked and hardly earn a living wage, but we can do a better job of helping our clients understand how our designs improve their bottom line. Designers – make convincing clients of the value of design part of what you do.

But, it’s a two-way street, so I also challenge corporate leaders to explore the power of design and to use their resources to develop the hard numbers to back it up. Design can make a difference – to your employees, to your clients, and to your bank accounts.

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