Business, Perspectives

Selling the value of design

You get it, you know that design has real business value, and you understand the difference that great design brings. But when it comes to selling-in ‘design value’, you will more often than need to break down a few walls built by the non-believers. When you are asked to justify design budgets, or worse, calculate the return on investment, the enemy you face is the logical side of the brain that dominates the black and white world of the Finance Department, or those responsible for releasing or raising your marcomm’ budget.

It’s why those in charge of the purse, will roll their eyes when you ask for just a little more to tweak the site. But there is hope – put your emotions aside and base your pleading on the real value that good design can bring to business.


Can it be measured ? 
It was reported in 2019, that every dollar spent in the US on UX brought between $2 and $100 in return on investment. That’s a broad range, and it would be impossible to find a Financial Director impressed by a spectrum so wide and vague. If you are chasing design budgets, you will pretty soon after also be arguing the value of design, and the tricky subject of what it’s worth. Next there will be frustration – the head banging and the enforced buttoning-up of your mouth. What happens next will require a lot of your time and great patience. You may have some fantastic initiatives in mind, based around some inspirational and empowering creative thinking, but before you embark on a ground-breaking new website or game-changing campaign, you will need to justify the investment, and even measure the results, all before your ship sets sail. Great design is about the small details adding up to bring big improvements – it is this, where the advantage is found, and it is this that is the key to getting everyone on-board when measuring its value. The tricky part is balancing what we are doing to change the world with authenticity – it’s the challenge that we face, and we must focus wholly on to resolve. There is little time left to miss opportunities to sow a seed of change. If a customer, client can be informed, or messaged that change, no matter how small is underway, it’s a positive move to making a difference through design. And if all Brands, Companies and Organisations make the effort to message change, the big change will come. Committing to inspire change should be our priority and be seen as the most important purpose to any Brand Company or Organization. And if it’s top of the list, at the forefront of all our audiences minds, it will change their own day, every day, and will undoubtedly lead and influence change in those around them.


Value that goes beyond design.
When we are talking about the business value of design, it is important that design, and those responsible for placing, or commissioning design are included in ‘the bigger picture’ – there are still a few dinosaurs around, who look down from above, with questionable views on the role of design within their business, but generally, design, whether it comes from internal teams or external Agencies, has today managed to achieve integration – but there are still too many Companies and Organisations that perceive design as something that runs alongside marketing. In spite of this positive trend, design, as a fully strategic business driver, often directly responsible for business success, is undervalued in most Organisations. Design, and its self-promotion, still has lots of work to do. As with any Campaign, selling the value of design requires a tactical approach, a steadfast framework, belief and enthusiasm.


How to sell it better.
If you are responsible for placing, commissioning, or producing design, it’s essential to employ clear and strong strategies to pitch perfectly your justification for the return on investment. The following points can help ease the process of understanding the value if design, and help structure the conversation of how design has the power to improve things, and how good design makes great business sense.


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You may have some fantastic initiatives in mind, based around some inspirational and empowering creative thinking, but before you embark on a ground-breaking new website or game-changing campaign, you will need to justify the investment, and even measure the results, all before your ship sets sail.

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01 — It’s about those who will benefit the most.
For any conversation about value to be successful, you need a framework. Principles and values create that framework for those conversations. Putting your customer, user or client at the centre of it all means subjective opinions will fall away, because you possess all the objective value you need to enhance and improve the customer experience.


02 — Make design part of the process.
Put design under the spotlight. Create a process that shows how good design can be used to validate, improve or measure results, while delivering customer or client value along the way. Related to the validation of the designs is showing the work of the design team. How did you get to these validated conclusions? How did you solve the problems? What designs were tested? Conversations are great, but being able to show the assets related to that work is a very powerful marketing and sales tool.


03 — Be vocal and visible.
Internally, design needs a platform to be able to sell its value. Make sure that design is visible, that design lives and breathes, and that more design is always needed. Lobby for design, and ensure that the Company you work for supports design. And remember, it’s rare that Members of the Executive team will seek you out to find out what you’re working on – design is more often than not very nice to look at, because of this you can punch the value of the design up and down the organization by simply sharing it – a beautifully designed name badge, or perfectly messaged ‘goody-bag’ can bring a highly visible difference to an AGM.


04 — Toes in first.
Expecting everyone to suddenly understand the connection between and perfectly designed customer solution or market response against a sharp spike in your design budget is a big and brave move. Start with a small, simple project, requiring little financial input; and then share and celebrate the results with gusto. Repeat the process, and repeat it again. Your return on investment will be easy to measure, analyse the results, and market them back into your Organisation – The support will grow, and you’ll grow closer to implementing or initialising the bigger projects – and with everyone on board, that new site, that re-launch or rebrand, will become much more achievable.


05 — An up to speed Agency.
Gone are the days of big-name Agencies swooning you with lunch or dinners. The most effective design Agencies today are small, efficient units, because small teams are faster. Short chain communication, means information is shared better, and less information is lost. And smaller Agencies will always take on more, with it, they learn quicker. And going back to your return on Investment, this is all about delivering efficiency.


06 — Don’t lose sight of your vision.
Good design can help deliver on a promise you’ve made to your customers, clients or stakeholders. But forget the whistles and bells – design should be used to provide them real value – there is no need to over-polish an idea. Perceptions are important, communication over designed or over-done, can blow the real message out of the water. Your design should stay focused, audiences will see when you are lost, worse, they can quite easily be lead into thinking your elaborate design looks ‘expensive’, so your business is, or Service will possibly be the same. Pitching or pinpointing design at just the right volume is all part and parcel of producing good design. It’s too easy to do too much, less easy to know exactly when to stop.


07 — Connect, connect, connect.
Seek to create as much design cross-functionality as possible. Connect and embed your design Agency and designers with those who have the information they need – team members from other departments, or even other sectors of your business that may not be immediately or obviously linked to the brief, can be of great benefit to holistic creative thinking. Integration, introductions and new relationships more often than not can reveal some surprisingly fresh and unexpected results.


08 — Build a brilliant team.
Your designers, or those that design for you, will behave and react in direct alignment with the way you structure your relationships with them. Teams that are structured and sensibly managed will have a direct impact on the results that are generated. Inform your designers, ensure that they are aware, give them direct contact with clients and their needs. Cross-functional, autonomous designers with close proximity to Clients will behave in responsive, innovative ways. When it comes to return on Investment, there is no better way to maximise your ‘profitability’ by building positive and fulfilling relationships with those who design for or with you. Build the right structures, instill the right feeling, feed the beast, and the rewards will be exactly what you need.


Don’t rush it.
Just as good design requires adequate time and a solid thought process to bring great results, these suggestions will take some time to develop and implement. Likewise, the time it can take for ‘the penny to drop’ when it comes to nurturing a solid understanding of the value of design in business – but just like great design, it’s about building the picture, filling it with substance and relevance, and leaving an engaged and inspired audience with no doubt of its value.


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