Design is undoubtedly recognised as valuable today. Probably the most consequential company of our time that demonstrated the impact of design on business performance is Apple. In the process of writing this article, Apple remains by and large the world’s leading influence in design from products, user-experiences, and retail.
Inspired by the success of Apple, many companies in the last two decades have poured a massive amount of resources into the design to shape business performance. Many have adopted the mantra of design thinking, others have gone to great lengths to prove that they are a design-led firm. Microsoft, the one-time nemesis of Apple, whose founder Bill Gates was once criticised by Steve Jobs as being unimaginative, has in recent years won admiration from the creative industry as doing the right thing in design, sometimes even surpassing Apple.
While Design is undeniably essential in today’s operating environment, one overriding question still stands: what makes a company truly competitive when it comes to design? How would one know if the investments in the design are any good? Does winning many design awards equate to financial returns? Does hiring an army of designers help? How about having someone in the boardroom who champions design?
In the process of finding out how design drives business performance, we found that the existing measures of design value tend to be similar to how one would measure brand value which is close to the concept of goodwill.
This approach is not a very reliable measure of the impact of design. Unlike branding, design is not consequential but a continuous, strategic intervention which then results in high-financial returns by ensuring higher willingness to pay by consumers. So to look at it from a sum-of-all-things perspective is rather subjective.
We have also learnt in the conversations with various leaders in the industry from both practitioners and adopters is that people tend to be rather comfortable to associate design with art; which makes it unmeasurable. This is an incorrect premise as design has always existed as a solution-based discipline rather than as an expression.