Design Value: we don't need more, we need clearer.

Article Written By: Freek Wallaard

Design councils around the world write great reports about the value of design, design leaders talk about proving the ROI of their teams, and everybody knows that showing, proving and managing design value is important. But what is it, really? And what is needed for those that work with it on a daily basis? I asked around in Grow's graduate community of designers and design managers around the world. 
Spoiler alert: indeed, we're not completely clear on what design value is and how to express it... And another spoiler alert: we need to step up our game, but not by creating more design value... 

Who are best at creating design value?
Plenty of companies and agencies do it every day, they add great value through design. Their design cost is turned into great returns for the company and for society. Their work sparks lovely emotions, brings great functionality, and beauty to the world. Who are some of these companies?

According to our graduates, these are some of the companies with great inhouse design teams delivering a ton of design value : Tesla, Pixar, BMW, Amazon, Harley Davidson, LEGO, Sonos, H&M, IKEA, Starbucks and Flipboard. 


This brings up a question. Why doesn't design have a worldwide equivalent of the Interbrand top 100? Probably because it hasn't been design's primary focus to sell itself better. Fact is: it's not that easy right now to look at other companies and get a good grasp of how well design really does. But the design community is starting to become aware of this, and initiatives to flaunt what design has are starting to appear left and right.

What about design agencies? Grow graduates gave honorable mentions to FuseProject, Chris Bangle Associates, IDEO, SeymourPowell, Frog, Playground Inc., Adaptive Path and, thankfully, PARK & Grow.

What do these companies and agencies have in common? They have a clear image on what design needs and what it will deliver. Yes, that is about hard numbers, but designers look at many, many more types of value that can be added... 

What is design value, and what kinds of design value exist?
Summarising what Grow graduates, designers and design managers from around the globe, shared, these are some of the types of design value they create: Better customer experiences, product standout, retention of the consumers' attention, brand appeal, usability, inspiration, emotional arousal, relevance, recognisability, internationalisation, easier sales, simplified development, better reputation, increased profit, newness, and the list goes on. 

Bottom line: a lot of value is created, but we don't have a shared language to express it. And we need one, for else: how ever will we be able to justify the design invest? To quote my colleague Jay Peters: 

It is imperative that design must measure and prove its value (back) to the business or design will, in the long run, be in jeopardy! - Jay Peters

What's next in design value?
The natural reaction of a designer is to come up with new ways of adding value through design. Many companies are looking at sustainability, integrated experiences, customer centricity, and social impact. But in our opinion, what design really needs right now is not more value, but clearer value. Structure in the big pile of value types, clear language and logic in managing the value of design initiatives. Connected to corporate strategy, connected to client needs, and followed all the way till the end: for example one year after launch. Only then can we investigate new ways of adding value and get the backing for it that we need so much... 

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