The tangible and
intangible impact of design activity on business
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
- Having measures in place allows more effective selection of
design projects, briefing of project participants and management of the design
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
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.