Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Value of Design?

“Wait a minute, Doc. Ah…are you telling me that you built a time machine out of a DeLorean?”

“The way I see it, if you're gonna build a time machine, why not do it with some style?”

Ok…so if you don’t know where these quotes came from, you need to zoom back to 1985 and watch ‘Back to the Future’ (again). Being an 11-year-old boy at the time, it was one of those amazing films that molded me into the industrial designer I am today. Even then, I understood that ‘style’ helped influence the experience of the film. Imagine how boring it would be if the time machine looked like a hot-wired lunch box? Marty McFly would not have crashed into the barn claiming to be Darth Vader from the planet Vulcan. The DeLorean set the pace, and it was one of the key reasons the film was a success.

So it’s obvious that design influences the ‘cool’ factor, but does it contain measure able value on other levels? It’s a question that continues to stump designers and big business alike. Most designers claim that you can’t, at least not in any standardized way. No one seems to agree weather design metrics are meaningful, and if so, which ones to use. The hard part is explaining what design is (and what it is worth) in terms executive management can understand. It can be frustrating for everyone involved. Designers see themselves as true visionaries, or problem-solvers, not cubical-dwelling mathematicians. Yet management finds it hard to justify something they can’t formulate. We would all love to say, “Great design equals this much profit.” In order to bridge this gap, it’s important for designers to educate themselves about business issues.

With this in mind, it’s very important to have a clear design strategy. It’s not good enough to expect clients to believe that a great design will shoot unbelievable amounts of cash into their wallets. It’s important to constantly use the growing body of data that shows how design can have a positive impact on business. I have found that the best way to communicate this is by example. Being a big fan of 3D animation, I always like to use the example of Monsters Vs. Aliens. In a highly competitive 3D movie market, Dreamworks invested an additional 13 million to make their latest 3D film ‘3-D’, complete with 3-D glasses to improve the moviegoers’ experience. The 3D experience had a ticket price of $3-$5 more than a traditional ticket, and 56% of their total ticket sales were for 3-D tickets. Does this mean moviegoers were willing to pay more for a special experience that they could not get at home?....absolutely.

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