The Value of Design

The catalyst for this report on the value of design in business was the outpouring of reader comments that arrived after a bad-tempered blog post

Back in December, I published a somewhat bad-tempered blog post. Titled "Come on Designers. Step Up", the piece was prompted by an article in The Times of London, in which designers and the design industry were hauled over the coals for, essentially, being a waste of taxpayers' money. In this instance, designers had created a new logo for the British National Health Service that nondesigners quoted in the piece (including British MP Greg Hands) deemed both unnecessary and expensive.

As I wrote at the time, the thesis of the Times piece was unoriginal and superficial—yet all too familiar. My irritation stemmed from the fact that the value of design is clearly still not understood in the marketplace at large. And, I argued, the responsibility for this disconnect—and fixing it—lies with designers. "Designers need to step up and fight back and prove their craft is not a 20th century anachronism," I wrote.

The response was swift, spirited, and fell mainly into two camps. Some thought I was being deliberately incendiary and borderline irresponsible; others agreed that perhaps the design industry has an issue. Many quite rightly pointed out that "design" is a much larger proposition than the graphic design of this particular rebranding exercise, while there were numerous lively and articulate defenses of design as a process, not a style or an artifact. Companies such as Apple (AAPL), Procter & Gamble (PG) and BMW (BMW:GR) were cited as corporate leaders that clearly understand the worth of good design.

This special report attempts to pick apart the issue a little further, with opinion pieces on the value of design from those within and outside the profession. IDEO partner Diego Rodriguez makes the case that good business arises from a design-centric process that incorporates marketing, research, and ideas. RKS Design's Ravi Sawhney and Deepa Prahalad outline four specific areas in which design can create value: understanding the consumer; mitigating risk; boosting marketing and branding; and driving sustainable business practices.

Angel investor Dave McClure is heavily involved in the Silicon Valley community of consumer Internet companies and technology-driven startups. He writes a spirited argument in which he makes the case that design and marketing are, in fact, way more important than engineering for the firms with which he works. And Dr. Jay Parkinson, a pediatrician and preventive medicine specialist, outlines the role that design (and disruptive innovation) can play in retooling the U.S. health-care system.

Finally, we put together a list of the 27 most influential designers and design thinkers making an impact on business today. Featuring the likes of Apple's industrial design guru Jonathan Ive and British service design specialist Hilary Cottam, our slide show aims to shine a light on the breadth and scope of the profession as well as to highlight those whose work is influencing global business and policy.

Clearly this is just another chapter in an ongoing discussion, but I hope you find the report useful. Let us know what you think.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.