Measuring design effectiveness


With shrinking design budgets due to the financial situation in many companies, design managers, like most professions, are trying to explain themselves and justify their value. Occasionally, efforts made in this cause appear too obsessive. Terms like key performance indicators, critical success factors and performance management systems are becoming part of the lingo of design managers.

However the more recent trend to try to measure design effectiveness sets a near-impossible task, at just the wrong moment. Many of the current attempts focus on short-term results by only defining CSF’s and KPI’s for the next quarterly meeting with the boss, others try to prove the effect of design in the limits of one design project (e.g. measure perceived quality in craftsmanship clinics or identify the design effect in brand equity). Ironically many neglect (conscious or unconscious) the importance of setting up a quality management program. Are they too busy with justifying their results? More and more design managers have turned to crunching numbers. Sometimes they do this to reassure themselves; sometimes they do it to look professional; more often, we hope, they do it for substantive reasons. It’s fine to keep watch on a few very vivid measures of design effectiveness. But to be governed by a search for the quantitative impacts of design is a mistake. In design, it’s particularly hard to measure both inputs and outputs. Even at its most successful, design is only part of a wider budgetary mix of technology and marketing, and on the output side? There the effect of design is computed on revenues, profit margins and even stock market performance. Statisticians make little allowance for the time lag between studio drawing and first-year sales.

Designers and design managers may have felt the need for numbers when they were in the corporate wilderness. But apart from the inherent difficulty of producing those numbers, they should focus on design effectiveness. While design effectiveness is focusing on doing the right things, design efficiency is focusing on doing the things right.

The down-side of high design efficiency is that it comes at a price we probably don’t want to pay – low effectiveness. Good design management cannot look at design efficiency and design effectiveness in isolation, but has to seek a good balance between both aspects. Design management must evaluate the degree to which design effectiveness and efficiency matter in a particular situation and ensure results with the right proportion for the particular situation.

As a design management consultant I talk to practicing design managers in international companies every day, here are some of their comments on this:

“Finally! At a time when we are trying to let go from over-engineered planning and risk assessment, liberating design, from wasting time trying to prove its effectiveness, is both liberating and necessary. Proving our effectiveness was always a demonstration and a re-enforcement of our insecurity.”
Design Manager
“I believe it is true that design has been more accepted into the mainstream of business culture, and that it’s potential as a business driver is more understood now than it has ever been. Nowadays, even the international business press has become a proponent of design as a contributor to business success. The design industry no longer needs to feverishly generate doubtful statistics as a matter of survival. Design is recognized, it has a place in the world.”
Design Manager
“I would wish that design effectivity was of no importance, but today there is a general tendency to think that only things we are able to measure have a value. If therefore, we had some good, simple tools to measure design effectiveness with, it would be much easier to sell the message that good design is good business. Finance Directors do not wish us to be bean counters, but to many of them it is still hard to understand what design actually is about.”
Design Manager
“We do not need to measure design as long as the design efforts within a given context (like a company) are doubtlessly successful. However, when they are not, then you need to get better. Better performance is what? Something somewhere between measuring/estimating/sensing that design has done a better job. Or you might be asked to reduce your resources (people etc.) in order to perform the same mediocre job as before with less strain on the financial system. How do you react? You justify. You explain. You develop and propose actions to improve performance. Your vocabulary will be close to measuring your own performance – – – just like anyone else in a corporate environment.”
Design Manager
““You can’t measure design effectiveness as you could measure the impact of an advertising campaign on the sales. But I am convinced that if you abandon the effort to identify what should be measured, you can enter in an illusion land where you will forget to fix the aims of design.”
Design Manager
“[While] it might be true that Design is more and more recognized for its added value to the success of companies by senior management, it’s certainly not the case on most lower levels in the organizations. Where top management start to think in terms of value, operational level still tend to think in terms of costs. We therefore might consider to sell our services more often on a value base, e.g. on an hourly compensation base.”
Design Manager

Wouldn’t it be better to strike a midway position?
Design is part of mainstream corporate culture nowadays. That means that designers and their managers are asked to account, numerically, for what they’re doing. This is fine – in costs and budget allocations, design managers need to run a tight ship. What we don’t need to worry about is measuring design effectiveness, which is a rather different matter. Such an endeavor is time-consuming and much more subjective than its pretensions to objectivity allow. It’s hard to isolate the effect of design from other effects. For instance, I help companies to follow activities to maximize the value of design. On top of this there is (in most companies) no need to measure the value of design.

  • Efficient and effective design process:
    Making design a quality program (related to requirements of ISO 9001) with clear roles, responsibilities, timings and deliverables.
  • Setting clear objectives and strategies for design management:
    Defining, monitoring and communicating KPI’s and CSF’s for design management, which are linked to the corporate strategy.
  • Training and establishing leading practice:
    Implement design management training and define the leading practice for a particular situation.
  • Establish a structure for effective design:
    Building design management capabilities and clear interfaces to other disciplines
  • Ensure quality of external design partners:
    Select and review external design partners and ensure high quality.
  • Creating an understanding for design in purchase and HR departments:
    Educating relevant decision-makers (e.g. in human resource and procurement) to understand the value of design and provide decision-making tools that are not only cost-based.
  • Communicating visions and successes:
    Visualizing a vision, running lighthouse projects and communicating successes explain the value of design without the need to measure it.

This chapter was initially pusblished in the book: Meanings of Designed Spaces

2017-07-15T19:38:12+00:00

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