Wednesday, March 21, 2007

No Accounting For Design?

It's the design world's dirty little secret. Despite the growing consensus that "good design is good business," most companies lack objective financial metrics to help them calculate whether increased investment in design will, in fact, generate increased profits. Does it matter? Chuck Jones, Whirlpool's design chief, certainly thinks so.

Mixing design and business Whirlpool's design chief, Chuck Jones, is cooking up an effort to prove quantitatively that his work is a profit center and not just an expense.

Two years ago, Jones made a pitch to add some injection-molded ornamentation to a KitchenAid refrigerator's redesign, which would have added about $5 to the per-unit cost. The company's resource-allocation team asked him to estimate the return on investment, but Jones couldn't produce the numbers to make such a forecast. As a result, he was forced to fall back on a rationale that was simultaneously elitist and lame: Trust me. I'm a designer.

That argument didn't fly.

Defeated, Jones resolved to improve on what he dubbed his "Las Vegas approach" to investing in design, "where you're basically asking people to roll the dice and hope for the best." As a first step, he surveyed 15 "design-centric" companies, including BMW, Nike, and Nokia. To his surprise, few had a system for forecasting return on design. Most simply based future investments on past performance. "No one," Jones says, "had really figured this stuff out."

Read the whole thing over at Fast Company .

That's Right,


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