Measure Design

by Terry Lee Stone

Designers are always working on building trust with their clients. In order to effectively work towards meeting the many challenges our planet faces, or simply helping businesses create better relationships with their customers, designers need to be valued and respected.

It would be great if designers could use traditional business management metrics to measure design’s contribution to a client’s bottom line and prove their worth. Not so easy. This becomes even more difficult to assess with graphic design in particular. Some design is more measurable than others; obviously websites are a great example of being able to track certain results (e.g. frequency, page views, etc.). The “soft measure” design disciplines, like corporate identity for instance, are far harder to measure.

Many international design organizations such as the nationally funded U.K. Design Council and Danish Design Center, as well as the privately held American-based Design Management Institute, work constantly to research and report on the value of design. However, the data and case studies they collect are not always black and white evidence of design’s financial impact.

Factors to Assess
There are a number of ways to look at design’s value. There are quantitative (having a measurable property) and qualitative (possessing a high degree of subjectivity) factors to examine and analyze.

Some things to look at when measuring design’s quantitative contribution:

  • Process improvement
  • Overall cost savings
  • Reduction in materials and waste
  • User/community interaction
  • New market adoption

Some qualitative things to look at:

  • Customer satisfaction
  • Brand reputation
  • Increased aesthetic appeal
  • Improved functionality

Could “ROI” mean Return on Influence?
A recent Harvard Business Review article by social media strategist Amy Jo Martin of Digital Royalty suggests another valuation approach and an entirely new definition of ROI. Traditionally, ROI has meant “Return on Investment,” while Martin suggests it could be “Return on Influence.” Her argument is that in Social Media, an activity that communication designers are more and more involved in, there are “warm metrics” to evaluate. Things like engagement levels, viral factors, sentiment analysis, can all be used to analyze the conversion of followers to active customers and brand participants. These ideas may have application to graphic design as well and are worth considering.

Terry Lee Stone is a writer, manager, producer, and creative strategist in Los Angeles.

triple bottom line venn diagram

The Triple Bottom Line
Design can play a critical part in supporting sustainability efforts. All three important factors involved in sustainability problem solving and decision-making: social, economic, and environment can be measured and impacted by design. Going forward, designer’s solutions will more and more be expected to balance this triple bottom line to prove lasting value.

Quick Tips
Another Metric: The Triple Bottom Line
The most accurate, effective, and relevant measurements for design tend to be an evaluation of both the tangible and intangible benefits to a business or organization. Trying to discern design’s direct impact on sales is often very difficult to quantify. These days, most companies tend to look at what is coming to be known as “The Triple Bottom Line.” That is, accounting for the social, environmental, and business impact of their products and services. Therefore, clients tend to measure design’s interaction with these factors and evaluate results holistically.

Design’s lasting value of course comes in encouraging behavior that our client seeks to affect. By helping inform, persuade, and motivate, design works to get audiences to think and do what the client wants. If this objective is geared toward the social responsibility of the Triple Bottom Line, or an increase in revenue, design absolutely plays a valuable role.

Dig Deeper!
1. Get Terry Lee Stone’s books Managing The Design Process: Concept Development and Managing The Design Process: Implementing Design.

2. Read the article, “Proving Our Value: Measuring Package Design’s Return on Investment” by Rob Wallace, Design Management Institute’s DMI Review, Summer 2001

3. Read the article, “Return on Influence, the new ROI” by Amy Jo Martin, Harvard Business Review, September 27, 2011

5. Check out the major design organizations for their take on the value of design: AIGA, U.K. Design Council, and Danish Design Centre

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