Can design be measured?

by Bernd Huth

What is design?

In order to be able to measure design, one must of course be clear about what design actually is and what it does. There are many different definitions, concepts or philosophies to approach the topic of design.

Design is not a feature that can be added to a product as an aesthetic extra. Design is neither an attribute that one product has and another does not. Rather, design is a planned and holistic process that is executed by several people and in several work steps.

Oxford English Dictionary

This, admittedly still somewhat vague, definition of the Oxford English Dictionary already offers a very good approach because it refers to the processual character of design. This process ideally involves experts from a wide range of disciplines: Marketing, sales, technology, design…
The experts bring their individual competence and expertise into the design process. The result is a product with a multitude of features that are an embodiment of this process.

Designer steht vor Whiteboard und schafft messbaren Erfolg durch Design

What does design achieve?

Design is more than a feeling: it is a CEO-level priority for growth and long-term performance.

McKinsey Quarterly, October 2018

At a time when many products do not stand out clearly from each other either technically or in price, design quality is increasingly becoming a decisive sales argument. Good design for instance, is able to visualize utility functions and thus simplify the use of the product. Furthermore, design is an important factor in branding and customer loyalty. The recognizability of the brand/products gives the customer orientation and trust. Often, design also helps to reduce production and product development costs and to make imitation more difficult. Design-related product successes can also lead to a higher price willingness and thus to a higher added value per product. Media attention is also certainly greater with a well-designed product.

Many companies have already deeply integrated the topic of design into their corporate strategy and are very successful in doing so.

But how can this design-related success be measured and expressed in numbers?

One possibility, for example, is value pricing. In this method, the price of a product is determined based on what customers think it is worth and what they are willing to pay. Usually, pricing is based on cost-plus pricing, i.e. manufacturing costs plus the targeted profit. If the prices found in this way are compared, the monetary added value generated by design can be determined.

Good design, however, is not a quantifiable science; mathematical formulas are of little help here. Rather, it requires courage, vision, an outstanding team of experts and a well-managed creative process.

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