Sunday, February 15, 2009

Strategic Numbers: Discussing the Value of Design with Sara Beckman of Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley

On the economic value of design ...

"We’re excited to bring Sara Beckman from the faculty at the Haas School of Business back into the Adaptive Path fold. We first worked with her in 2003 on our groundbreaking report, Leveraging Business Value: How ROI Changes User Experience.

With one foot in business and the other in academe, Sara brings both a practical and research orientation to her understanding of how design drives business value.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Sara about the value of design and how organizations are approaching this growing challenge.

[KR] Welcome, Sara. It’s great to talk to you today.

Sara, your work addresses that “holy grail” of business & design: how to measure the value of design. There’s now increasing empirical evidence that substantiates the impact, but challenges remain.

Let’s start with the basics: When you say “value of design” what do you mean, and what’s the meaningful difference that measuring value makes?

[SB] Well, Kate, in simple terms I think about the value of design as the contribution that design makes to the bottom line performance of a company. In short, how does design add to the profitability of the organization? These days, of course, we talk more and more about “integrated bottom line” performance — including environmental and social factors along with the traditional economic view of firm performance. This expansion allows design to make an even broader contribution to the firm.

Why should I want to be able to measure the value of design? Because doing so adds credibility to the argument that an investment in design ought to be made. For years we’ve provided anecdotes or stories of how design has made a difference in any number of settings; having measures and empirical data strengthens the arguments that we’ve been supporting with stories.

Remember, many of the organizations into which we are trying to sell the idea of “good design” or “design thinking” have been driven by classic marketing and market research approaches — having lots of data matters. Bringing data that “proves” the contribution of design to the “integrated bottom line” makes designers fit in better with that data-driven approach.

[KR] Unlike classic marketing approaches, however, this is a new message, one that has emerged only in the past few years. How does this message go over with strategic leaders? Are companies starting to “get it”?

[SB] Absolutely. The considerable visibility given to design, design thinking, and their partner, innovation, in recent years has raised awareness significantly. High profile companies like Apple and Google that engage in design and innovation as a way of life are leading other firms to believe in the possibility that design matters. And, in many large established companies, design leadership is being promoted to higher levels in the organization — there are more and more Vice Presidents of Design, for example.

[KR] One thing that is often mentioned is that the language of design and the language of business seldom align. What’s your take on this?

[SB] I’m not sure I think of it as alignment — designers and business people speak different languages altogether. So, it isn’t even as simple as alignment — translation is required. Designers and MBAs go through completely different educational processes, so it isn’t surprising that they would speak different languages, and even think differently.

The world of designers is far more visual, designers engage far more in experimentation and play, and designers learn to regularly engage in critiques of one another’s work, an important process for improving and iterating on their work.

MBA students, on the other hand, learn in a world of words and numbers, have fewer places or spaces in which to play with ideas and build upon them, and receive feedback on their work in very different ways than that provided in a crit. With these major differences in how they are taught, to say nothing about the content of what they are taught, it is not surprising that they speak different languages.

Some early research that we’ve been doing on the students in our new product development class — that involves MBA, engineering and design students — suggests that there may be significant differences in the types of students that are drawn to the different programs in the first place. So, it may be that designers and MBAs think and work differently even before they become designers and MBAs."    (Continued via adaptive path, Kate Rutter)    [Usability Resources]

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