The tangible and intangible impact of design activity on business

Prof. Tom Inns, Head of School of Design, University of Dundee, Scotland, UK

Assessing the tangible and intangible impact of design investment
When your business makes an investment in design it will be making a conscious decision to create something new. The end result can manifest itself in many ways depending on the focus of design activity. It might, for example, be an improved product, a revised branding strategy or improved communication material. During the design-process time will have been spent conceiving, planning and undertaking the design project, investment will have been made in implementing the design solution and a large number of stakeholders within the business will have been involved in decision making.

Having made this investment in time and resources it is very useful to measure the impact that design actually has on the business. Establishing such measures will bring your organisation the following benefits.

  • Effective design will inevitably cost money, this means that design will be competing within a business for resources alongside many other initiatives. It is therefore important to see the potential contribution of design in a way that allows ready comparison with other types of investment.
  • It is widely accepted that you will be more likely to achieve what you measure. Individual design projects will be more likely to deliver against metrics of business performance if these have been clearly articulated to the design team at the beginning of the design process.
  • Measuring things provides information that is essential for debriefing and therefore making improvements in the future. This is a key attribute of the learning organisation. If performance is poor the business should think about refocusing its design efforts in the future. If performance is good then principles of best practice can be harvested to help steer future projects.
  • Having measures in place allows more effective selection of design projects, briefing of project participants and management of the design process.


Why is measuring the impact of design investment such a complex task?
Having established the importance of measurement it is useful to consider how an organisation can go about measuring the impact of design investment. This is a complex task because investment in design can have such a far reaching impact on an organisation. It can obviously have a direct impact on products, services, websites, environments and other physical manifestations of design activity. Equally, however, participation in design projects can have a significant influence on the processes & systems within a business, how it thinks strategically, the culture of innovation and perceptions of the company’s knowledge base; all areas that are acknowledged as being of increasing importance to the modern organisation.

For example, if a business uses design effectively in the creation of a new product, extra turnover and profits will be generated from subsequent sales. These effects can be quantified if the business puts the right measures in place. Equally, however, through exposure to this design activity the business may have made a radical shift in its capability for developing future products. If design has been well managed the business could have established a whole new process for developing new products, something of enormous significance in terms of future business performance.

In order to deal with this challenge this section of the briefing paper presents an impact assessment framework that will allow you to systematically review all the ways design investment might have an influence on your organisation.

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Design Management
VIZO Workshop

“Design makes the Difference”
Brussels, Belgium - 29/30 November 2002

 
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