How do you measure the value of design?
It's a fair question that deserves to be addressed. How should a company measure the value of design? What is the contribution that design makes to the bottom line?
This is a difficult problem. Sure there are numerous anecdotes that provide evidence that a focus on design leads to success (Apple, Google, Facebook etc). But, anytime you're attempting to isolate and measure a single variable in a complex environment it will be difficult.
A few years ago the British Council of Design commissioned a study that does provide some quantitative evidence. They created a stock index tracking the 61 firms that had won major awards in british design contests. This index fund outperformed its peers by over 200% during the study. This may not prove a causal link, but perhaps it proves at least a correlation between design and performance.
The bigger question becomes, can you really isolate any single variable in a business environment? Does management expertise (perhaps measured by the percentage of MBA's in management staff) correlate to higher profits? I don't know, but it would be interesting to find out.
At the end of the day, I think the reason this question comes up so often is that the people asking it don't come from a design background. It's easy for an MBA to justify their own management, or financial expertise. But, someone without a design background has a hard time grasping it's value. Just as designers have a hard time grasping the value of an MBA.
Personally, I prefer a more common sense approach when approaching the value of design. Design is really nothing more than a focus on developing products in an extremely user centered way. If you develop products that meet your customers needs and you create products that they enjoy using—then you're providing value. And creating value is the reason that you're in business.
What do you think? Feel free to comment and share your opinions.