The interplay of design effectiveness and efficiency

With shrinking design budgets due to the financial situation in many companies today, design efficiency comes into the fold. Terms like Key Performance Indicators, Critical Success Factors and Performance Management Systems are becoming part of the lingo of design managers. While design effectiveness is focusing on “doing the right things”, design efficiency is focusing on “doing the things right”. Good design management can not look at design efficiency and design effectiveness isolated, but has to find a good balance between both aspects.

Fil Salustri (author of the blog: the trouble with normal) argues in his post “The down-side of high efficiency”, that high efficiency comes at a price we probably don’t want to pay – low effectiveness. And that “

[…] design thinking should be based on seeking a balance between efficiency and effectiveness. In any situation where one might apply design thinking, one must consider the degree to which each of efficiency and effectiveness matter, and then devise ways to bring them together in the right proportions for that situation.” While his multi-objective-optimization approach provides a measure which might be too mathematical for many design managers, it includes a great thought which can provide a lead in the discussion of finding the best balance of design effectiveness and efficiency for a given situation.

To better understand what design effectiveness and efficiency means for design managers in their specific industry, I organized a workshop for senior design managers earlier this year. In the context of an expedition (guest speaker was extreme adventurer Jolanda Linshooten) we discussed in-depth what efficiency and effectivess means in general and especially for design managers. The interdependence of design effectiveness and efficiency is not industry-specific and this discussion showed us again, the similarities of challenges design managers across various industries have to face.