The real value of design. From designer to CEO

February 26, 2019 | Software

Ask about the value of design – and most people will not explain it even if they are rather business-minded. Neither designers – they have no idea at all. And friendly speaking, the question is tough. As a founder and CEO of IT-company that is very keen on UI/UX-design, I heard a lot of those inconvenient questions too. And I tried to understand if those questions were really relevant. Want to share my findings with you.

There are at least 3 points of view here

  1. Designers and other art peoples
  2. Marketers and people who use design in mass communications
  3. Business owners and other customers who pay for design to reach business goals


Though those can be very opposite sides I will try to answer the question from different points of view. And the differences start at the very beginning: the meaning of value is different for those three too.

Designers’ point of view

This side is very creative and uses a lot of vague categories to explain their approaches.
It’s a real problem just because often it’s rather difficult to understand. They are sort of art people and some of them even feel hurt when you speak about value.

I was quite surprised when I found an extremely emotional opinion of one honorable man in design.

“If your boss is asking you to quantify the value of your work, you need to understand that your work indeed has no value. Not at that company. Not with that boss”.
Alan Cooper

It is one of the articles “When Companies Question the Value of Design” and Alan goes on with the real killer:

“What’s the ROI of UX?’ is the most idiotic question ever asked”.

But look, I’m the boss 🙂
And I know the real value of design so let’s take a look on the other side. The fact is that every design can have any value only in a business environment. Literally.
If you’re a designer, you obviously work for a commercial organization. Even if you don’t work for any business, you sell your work thanks to the commercial interest of your customer. It actually means that a business is the only system that can assume the value of design and monetize the work of designers.

Are there loud voices in the air? Yes, there are oodles of designers appealing to something like “design has esthetic value because [again] it is an art”! And how can be assumed the value of those filling e.g. when you see the real piece of art?
But don’t forget that the real pieces of arts are located in the places where you can get only for money. Whether you came to a museum or to a beautiful city overwhelmed with architecture art – every significant artwork has the real cost and was somehow paid. Furthermore, if it is real art – it will be paid continuously in the future.

That’s it.
And with all respect to Alan, the most effective way is to combine empirical things like art itself with some intellect, so art becomes more effective when shaped with assuming the value.
That is not really wrong – that is ultimately ok. But maybe the question of design’s ROI is not really so stupid?

Read forward – you’ll see.

As for Marketing

There is the next fact.

Two in five designers feel they don’t explain the value of their services well.

And Mr. Alan Cooper seems to be in those two 🙂
Unfortunately for him, there is another point of view exactly from the field.

Jonathan Ive – the head of design in Apple – said that designers education is tragic. Back in 2014 then he already pointed out that traditional design schools can’t teach their students how to make a product.

Now we are in 2019 but still, have no vision. The vision is that designers must make a product that people will like. That is the real value from marketers’ point of view – and that is art exactly. The real designers have to understand not only color matching or composition to make it. They have to focus on customer needs and understand them.

Exactly they need to fill what button will user going to push and why the customer will prefer that color on the site. Exactly that skill makes them professional – and obviously place them to those 3 in 5.

In a nutshell, that is the marketing point of view on design.

To be honest this opinion is quite natural. But even in the age of information and T-shaped professionals, some people try not to take new knowledge and not to learn new skills. Maybe in an era of current changes, it is time to stop trying to seem like good enough? Maybe the problem is here?

Design can impact the business. The UK starts

There are not so many information about it. However, some researches were made and the results should be shown. Firstly, some answers came from the UK – a country where located 30% of all designers from all over the world. Design Council say that – and it is a really very interesting organization that looks at design very globally.

There are some facts from the “Design Council” report, which provide designers with some answers to the tough questions. Also, these figures from the UK can help business owners to start understanding the value of design.

  • Rapidly growing business are three times more likely than the rest to consider design crucial to success

47% of the rapidly growing businesses in the UK see design as crucial to business success. (VS average UK 15%)

  • Businesses that add value through design see a greater impact on business performance than the rest

23% of businesses with a turnover of over £2M rank design first. VS only 5% of businesses with a turnover of under £250,000.

  • For every £100 a design which design-led business spends on design, turnover increases by £225


‘On average, it takes 20 months for design projects to pay back the investment.’ – Invotek case study

The last citation came from “Leading Business by Design” – the brochure with 12 real cases with experience of applying design at board level. Business people find here a lot of awesomeness including recommendations for how to maximize the impact of design.

You can say that reports are not-so-new. Yes, but actually the described concepts and trends are very stable. And after more than 10 years all of that was confirmed by another report from McKinsey.

“The Business Value of Design”. The USA goes on

“We tracked the design practices of 300 publicly listed companies over a five-year period in multiple countries and industries. … Our team collected more than two million pieces of financial data and recorded more than 100,000 design actions.”

…Sounds very fundamentally, real McKinsey style.

MDI (McKinsey Design Index) – a special indicator that shows how actively company uses a design for its growth and how effectively design impacts their financial outcome.
To the point, “Design Council” RODI (Return On Design Investments) index shows similar trends too.

So, the key insight is the more penetration of design in a company – the more revenue and investments’ return.

Top-quartile MDI scorers increased their revenues and total returns to shareholders (TRS) substantially faster than their industry counterparts did over a five-year period – 32 percentage points higher revenue growth and 56 percentage points higher TRS growth for the period as a whole.

And the next finding is really killer.
The killer for the opinion of “forever-non-digitized art of design”. It is among TOP 4 actions which make design financially effective.

  1. Measuring and driving design effectiveness not less rigorously than other business costs.
  2. No gaps between physical, digital, and service design.
  3. To use a cross-functional approach to make an effective user-centric design.
  4. Continually listen, test, and iterate engaging end-users to minimize risks.


To endorse the topic let see the citation of the report: “More Than a Feeling: It’s Analytical Leadership”.
It is not just “We spent a lot of time and money”. The companies which take part in the report develop their own metrics for design appraisal, track the results and change details to adjust it perfectly.

The true facts came from internet-marketing where we can have strict figures by testing services. Thanks to definite measurements we can have 25% of sales increasing usability by little changing of website or mobile app.

An old-school approach does not work

During 2 years in IT, I’ve already seen enough start-ups which did not believe in design. Most of them were technically-oriented or, let say, even code-oriented. They were really good at programming so tried to solve communication and usability tasks with coding.

“Road map? User-friendly interface? I don’t need it. We made a really great solution. The great thing does not need any design at all! People will like it cause of their features!” – they said something like that.

But people won’t. I don’t remember any of such who really became popular or even came to round A.

An old-school approach does not work.
Look at SAP for example. Most of them have a lot of functions, very powerful, and seem to solve a lot of the problems. But really they are not user-friendly at all, with dull and inconvenient not intuitive interfaces, highly complicated for end-users, and require a very difficult installation process. And let be honest, even professionals often hate SAP systems and can not learn it properly and keep open discussions about it. But anyway they willy-nilly have to use those systems because they just have no choice. It takes a longer training curve, harder to remember and to operate, should be more visual and self-explaining.

But now the one who has really no choice is a developer – I think now we enter the era. It becomes more difficult – but if you hunger for success you must consider the design as an important part of your product.

So, that is the real value of design. And there is the real future of design and designers despite complexity and even difficulty to understand. But the future belongs to people who can take up the glove.

Viktor Mikla
Expert in Business Development and Business Processes