I found a kindred spirit in Ben Sheppard. I recently read his study, The Business Value of Design and thought, here is someone who understands what my colleagues and I have been saying for more than a year now: designers ARE leaders, and they deserve to get promoted from the brainstorm room to the board room.
Design plays a strong role in brand and product creation, product packaging, brand experience, and all corresponding marketing materials, driving communication and the behavioral economics behind consumer purchasing decisions and consumption and loyalty, etc., etc.
But how can you objectively convey that? Can you measure design or is it subjective like art?
McKinsey logically asserts that to prove design’s value, businesses must quantify key performance indicators (KPIs) for design. According to The Business Value of Design:
- “More than 50 percent of companies admitted that they have no objective way to assess or set targets for the output of their design teams. With no clear way to link design to business health, senior leaders are often reluctant to divert scarce resources to design functions.”
McKinsey analyzed design actions that correlate with financial performance and two of the clusters identified are particularly interesting to those in design operations or who deliver design through the last mile of packaging. Let’s look at these and understand how to interpret them.
McKinsey Design Recommendation: Measure and drive design performance with the same analytical rigor as revenues and costs.
In organizations where design has no KPI’s, design doesn’t get a seat at the table. Design leaders must demonstrate that they can increase their teams’ productivity and output quality over time using data.
When design leaders come to the table armed with numbers and results they will be taken more seriously by business leaders. For instance: “We improved our design-to-launch process from 100 days to 30 days, and because we got to market faster, we beat our competitor and captured $1.5 million in additional sales.” Wouldn’t that turn heads!
I have heard some design managers joke that they are allergic to numbers, and I think that’s very unfortunate, because I don’t know any business leaders who can’t quantify the output of their teams. Companies love revenue more than they love design, or creativity.
McKinsey Design Recommendation: De-risk development by continually listening, testing, and iterating with end users.
When companies digitize their packaging operations, they are better equipped to test and iterate packaging designs for end users (also called consumers). For instance:
- Designers can create digital 3D mockups of package designs for online consumer panel testing, they can capitalize on user feedback much more quickly than the analog practice of hand-cutting printed boxes to present to an in-person focus group in several parts of the world.
- Beyond digital 3D renderings of designs, virtual reality (VR) testing within digital store environments, combined with VR eye tracking can deliver even more specific insights about shopper behavior and what draws their attention at shelf in a physical retail store, in the arena of competition.
I think it is also worth noting that McKinsey asks a question in the introduction to their study that never really gets answered: “How do companies deliver exceptional designs, launch after launch?” In my experience, companies that deliver exceptional designs consistently have built organizational capability or muscle to do these things (and hire designers who ultimately end up with a seat at the table!):
- They digitize design and creative operations.
I cannot stress this enough. Designers benefit from digital technologies and the best companies leverage digital workflow software to improve their visibility over the design-to-launch process and to connect cross-functional teams. This means giving all contributors tools like digital asset management so they can keep their finished work organized, centralized, and accessible. It means enabling legal to review designs and provide feedback efficiently and easily, so delays don’t frustrate designers. They remove manual errors from copy/paste by dynamically managing copy and content through structured copy sheets.
They digitize because it allows them to offload to systems the tracking of projects and the number of days it takes stakeholders to review or give their feedback on designs. Digitizing the design process gives design leaders the KPIs they need to get a seat at the table. KPIs help them investigate problems and create countermeasures to continuously improve. In this way, digitization gives design leaders the visibility and data to apply design thinking to their design processes, continuously iterating with an eye on their teammates as the end users.
- They automate, for quality and capacity reasons, which ultimately impact cost.
They support and enforce quality with automated tools that pickup more errors than a proofreader’s tired eyes or a busy brand manager’s rushed glances, and faster too. They enforce quality with connectivity and measure the results objectively, for instance, the color was in-target based on what the automated color measurement device says, not only what the production assistant’s eyes tell him.
They preserve designers’ most valuable limited resource (Inspiration!) by automating as many administrative design tasks as possible, such as converting files from .AI to .JPEG or cropping images so they’re suitable for the PowerPoint presentation or a social media post.
Within consumer goods companies, the interplay between physical functions (packaging, shopper marketing, etc.) and digital functions (e-commerce, marketing, etc.) is increasingly overlapping, and handoffs are becoming more and more frequent. The risk is that investments in design could be diluted as projects move from design into execution. Leaders in these organizations need to investigate the difficulty with which teams currently collaborate, to what degree these functions may operate separately, and seek ways to connect them with digital tools and processes that remove redundant work, speed collaboration, and communication, improve the quality of the work, all with the mission of returning better results from their investments in design.
To designers and design leaders: Don’t be comfortable living in the privileged land of subjectivity without objective measures (numbers). It is a dangerous place and residency there will not last forever. Designers do deserve a seat at the table, and the ones that claim seats will be those who can leverage technology to generate KPIs and prove the value of design.