1. What is meant by design effectiveness?
Design effectiveness should be thought about in terms of the impact that a design project is able to deliver. Once objectives are defined, they can then be used as a benchmark of the project’s success. You need to know your starting point, and have a view of what success looks like. From the DBA’s point of view – certainly when it comes to selecting winners of the Design Effectiveness Awards – we look for professionals who have met, if not exceeded, the expectations set in a client brief. And our grand prix winners – of which The Engine Room is one – are able to demonstrate that their work has significantly surpassed a client’s goals for a project.
2. Who is typically most able to demonstrate design effectiveness?
It’s possible to push boundaries with design regardless of industry sector, company size, designer experience, project budget, and in truth so many other variables. The numbers may be different – one commission may be worth a seven-figure sum, while the other is a four-figure job – but it’s all relative. The impact is no less important. It’s also crucial to note that a stand-alone designer is just as capable of demonstrating transformative design excellence as a global design agency. Think of the work of Leonardo da Vinci – yes, he had assistants, but essentially, he was a one-man-band. Look at the impact he has had on the world.
3. How is design effectiveness typically measured? Which metrics matter?
As Lesley Gulliver (The Engine Room’s managing director) pointed out in a design effectiveness blog a little while back, measurability can take various guises. Again, it comes back to the objectives set. A FTSE 100 company may need to shift more products on a vast scale, whereas a local retailer – with a considerably more modest budget – may need to focus on boosting lunchtime trade. The projects will unfold differently of course, but in each scenario, impact matters demonstrably and revenue uplift is key. Also, to go back to my earlier point, the same designer could, in theory, respond to and deliver on both briefs. That’s not to say every project centres on financial performance. In the case of a service redesign brief, for example, the priority may be some form of behavioural change – either within an organisation or society as a whole. Design can absolutely be commissioned to change hearts and minds. It’s also important to remember the difference between output and outcomes. For example, fresh surroundings may be the visible output of an office interior redesign, but heightened morale, productivity and workplace satisfaction could actually be the outcomes. Dig a little deeper, and it’s likely that staff absence – and the costs associated with otherwise avoidable sick leave – would also have dropped. The same could probably be said for staff attrition figures. In short, there are sometimes unexpected surprises associated with design being deployed, and they should be evaluated too.
4. Can a client always give a detailed brief?
The more specific a client can be, the better. However, as designers we seek clarity on what the client is striving to achieve, not necessarily how they expect the project to be undertaken. You wouldn’t entrust your life to a brain surgeon only to prescribe how they should perform the operation, for example. So, our advice here is to concentrate on what needs to change, why and when – the specificities of the end goal. The ‘how’ is arguably up for debate. If the Government commissioned a design project to ultimately reduce the level of sugar in the population’s diet, they may have suggestions – great. But the right designers would respond to the brief with a strategic approach, rich with a myriad of ideas, ranging from an awareness campaign or product packaging design, to the reshaping of eatery surroundings. Environments can be designed to make things happen, don’t forget – cinemas, for example, are purposefully laid out to try to make you buy food.
5. How can businesses choose the right design professional(s), when it comes to measuring design effectiveness?
We encourage organisations to talk to designers and agencies about their challenges and ask them how they would approach the brief. Do they have experience of tackling similar challenges and what were the outcomes? Are they able to demonstrate design effectiveness in action, or better still, have they won an independently-judged DBA award, for the impact of their work? Buy the best you can afford, not the cheapest.
6. How do design professionals go about entering the DBA Design Effectiveness Awards?
They were announced earlier in the summer, which means the entry process has opened for next year’s scheme. Designers have until 4 November 2022 to prepare their submission, which will then be critiqued by a panel of client-side business leaders. More details can be found at https://effectivedesign.org.uk/.
7. And do you have any closing comments?
“SMEs account for 99.9% of the business population,” according to government statistics . As an industry, the design community needs to keep working with these organisations – especially those with the ambitions to grow and do good – because, together, they have the power to instigate such change. The reputation of any business is built on its customer experience and design helps create it.