Five long years ago, I wrote a piece entitled, “Return on Creative.” The crux of that essay was that design was critical to business success and, naturally, that a clear understanding of business principles and a focus on creating value was critical to successful design.
This was part of marketing campaign that we were running in order to position Aquent as the company that “got” both business AND design, making us the perfect choice for any organization looking for increased efficiency from creative execution (as we often called it). Of course, it also jibed with the growing (and still prevalent) trend amongst AIGA-istas and DMI-ers to insist that design deserved a “place at the table” – that is, the table where important business decisions are made.
This “place at the table” thinking has been questioned by folks like Michael Bierut and, more recently, Dan Saffer. Bierut sees it as symptomatic of an insecurity complex and insists that designers should focus on being good at design, not business. Saffer says that designers need allies at the table, but should relish their place away from it as outsiders who can “speak truth to power.” As high-falutin’ as that may sound, Saffer rightly emphasizes that, place at the table or not, designers need to be able to explain their work and decisions in business terms.
When a client or manager asks about the return on investing in “good” design, she wants to translate it into the language of profit and loss. Paying designers is an expense that she must weigh against other expenses and justify in terms of relative profitability.
How do YOU handle this question? How do you measure the impact of DESIGN? Do you? Or is that, ultimately, the wrong question?