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Why good design equals good business

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Signal on how design can have a positive impact on business.

What single part of your business has a proven impact on increasing revenue, lowering operational costs while growing your market share?

Infrastructure? Utilisation? Agile methodologies? Robust business strategy? All have crucial roles to play, but there’s something else that has an even bigger impact.

The answer? Design.

It’s not just about having an in-house design team. It’s also about establishing the correct conditions for true design to flourish and making it integral to your organisation.

How do we know this?

InVision (whose design tools are used by 5m people worldwide, including every company in the Fortune 100) recently undertook the largest design adoption survey ever created and, luckily for us, it proves that good design = good business.

The New Design Frontier report surveys more than 2,200 companies across 24 industries, in 77 countries. And it proves that the more integrated design is to an organisation, the more successful they are across a plethora of metrics.

What did they discover...?

Before we delve into the intriguing statistics, it’s equally important to understand how they measured and analysed the data. InVision segmented the organisations involved into five levels of ‘design maturity’ - one being the lowest level of maturity and five being the highest. These can be summarised by the following:

  • Producers - Design is what happens on screens and makes things look good
  • Connectors - Design is what happens in a workshop
  • Architects - Design is a standardised scalable process
  • Scientists - Design is a hypothesis and an experiment
  • Visionaries - Design is business strategy

Unsurprisingly, only a fraction of the companies that took part in the survey are truly benefitting from the impact of design. Visionaries make up only 5% of the companies involved, while a whopping 41% fall into the producers category, the lowest-level of design maturity.

While 41% is the largest of the five groups, I believe this is still remarkably positive. As 59% of all other organisations fall into the higher levels of maturity, it is encouraging that the world is beginning to realise the importance of design and that we are moving in the right direction (albeit slowly).

Companies in the study reported that when design takes center stage, it can have a direct impact on tangible business results, like revenue, valuation, and time to market, according to InVision’s The New Design Frontier survey.

More interestingly, not only does the report demonstrate a direct correlation between design maturity and customer satisfaction, but also revenue and cost savings. 92% of Level five companies (visionaries) state that design has significantly impacted their revenue - that’s four times greater than that of a Level one company (producer). As for cost savings, Level five companies state an impact that is five times greater than that of a Level one organisation.

The facts are difficult to ignore

However, I’d be lying if I said I was all that surprised. Thinking about some of the fastest-growing, smartest and most-disruptive organisations in the world - agency, startup, product or a service - what do they all have in common? Design is intrinsic to their business. It’s not a coincidence that regardless of whether you see a website, app, email, presentation or printed material from these brands, everything has been considered and designed based on user needs and is of a consistently high quality. Nor is it a coincidence that better-designed products and services are adopted faster and in greater numbers.

Overcoming obstacles

Design, like most creative fields, can be subjective. Even the very meaning of the word gets misconstrued. I am sure I am not the only designer who has had a ‘making pretty pictures for a living’ joke made at their expense before. The irony is that these comments couldn’t have reached me without great design being involved - they are frequently typed on an iPhone, via WhatsApp or a social network (with an accompanying emoji of course).

In order to elevate design within your organisation, there needs to be a pivotal shift in the perception of what ‘design’ is, throughout all levels of the business. This begs the question - what is design?

Design isn’t just superficial

However while the aesthetic value of design is of course important, it’s not the whole story. In the Design Disruptors documentary, Julie Zhuo, VP of product design at Facebook states: “Design is the act of intentionally solving problems” and lands on one of the closest descriptions we can hopefully all agree upon, regardless of the field of design. Let me explain why:

  • It has purpose - Designers inherently tend to work in the interest of others, not ourselves. The word ‘intentionally’ is used because we choose to tackle challenges, most of which are not our own, but that of a user.
  • It has difficulty - The word ‘solving’ is there for a reason. Design is not easy. Regardless of methodology, it requires a lot of thinking that can last months, even years to perfect the solution to the problem.
  • It isn’t primarily focused on visual aesthetic - Yes, well-designed products tend to look good, but that is usually a byproduct of solving the problem better than others. For example, the iPhone was not the first smartphone, Apple just figured out how to do it better than everyone else. Apple’s competitors then copied their successful formula because the way it was designed had set a new standard for usability and desirability.

There is more to your design team than meets the eye

It’s clear then, that businesses too often pigeon-hole design in the ‘making things look good’ category, when really, your design team are an untapped resource of problem solvers.

Design should be treated as an asset, not a commodity. Having a truly talented and empowered design team is rare, but it is your secret weapon against your competitors. Recognising this will empower your design team to deliver countless creative solutions to your business challenges.

The commercial and cultural results of elevating design are proven in InVision’s New Design Frontier research - with truly design-centric companies seeing four times the revenue and five times the cost savings.

However, as the report carefully articulates, it is not a case of design adoption, but design maturity. And like all maturity, it takes time and steady progress. Crucially, this begins with a commitment to improve and an action plan that the whole organisation can buy into.

Gregor Matheson, design director at Signal.

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