by Antonio Alonso, AIA
I always find myself asking these questions and sometimes it keeps me up at night. How do you express the value of design to your clients? How do you handle clients that want “cheaper” less effective design? Do you educate them or let them move along?
Design is undervalued in a lot of organizations because it can be difficult to measure its impact. Naturally, companies know through sales when a product or service is successful, but how much analysis is done to measure the extent to which these results can be attributed to design.
The term “design” is often misunderstood because it includes disciplines ranging from architecture, engineering, interiors, product and industrial design to fashion and textiles, graphics, and exhibitions. What is common to all these types of design is that they involve creating concepts, plans and instructions, usually in response to a brief provided by a firm or client that enables a two or three dimensional object that did not exist previously to be made. Everything from a building to wallpaper has to be designed and the design of the object is the specific configuration of elements, materials and components that give it its particular attributes of function, looks etc. and determine how it is to be made.
Investing 10 % in design to ensure that the other 90% is a success is a small price to pay. This requires a shift in thinking from regarding design as a soft service function to a cornerstone of business strategy. Cost-of ownership studies agree that the first cost only accounts for around 10 percent of all costs a building owner will spend over the life of the building. The other 90 percent comes in the form of operation and maintenance.
Finally, design is an excellent channel for risk taking and for rapidly pushing the barriers of an organization. Failure can occur quickly in the design stage, but in most cases the designers (s) will “fail forward” – the mistake leads to learning, which allows the team to succeed sooner. One of the most powerful components of design is that people form fast relationships and responses to it, positive and negative. It is amazing how quickly cross-departmental teams can discard a design because it isn’t quite working. This in turn enables them to move the ball forward and close the gap between the idea and the successful product/service. Design should therefore be viewed as a fast prototyping method that simultaneously raises the level of innovation within an organization and helps create a culture that achieves success quickly.