The ROI of Design Thinking - Quantifying design thinking and human-centered design drives can offer avenues for continous improvement and organizational buy-in, however, how are we currently measuring, what sort of reports exist to quantify, and is this the way it should be done?

The ROI of Design Thinking

By: Marisa White

At this point, it may seem like a broken record, but as of lately design thinking has taken a more formalized definition in the market—which fortunately for design thinkers everyone has led to more formalized definition of the return on investment incorporated with design thinking. 

However, why does this question arise and is it the question we should be asking? 

Design Thinking case studies many times paint qualitative pictures and success by proxy. An exciting digital innovation successfully launched tied to in-depth user research and a reiterative process, teams understanding the role of other departments due to the collaborative nature of design thinking. However, the larger use case we address across the design thinking is the idea of Design Transformation—a larger implication of cultural and organization transformation. Essentially once design thinking permeates an organization how does it change the way we work and function?  Which then leads to the big ROI question: Can we and how do we quantify this?

This draws in the approach of some of most formally cited case studies including the Design Value Index and McKinsey Design Index, citing the macro impact of design led organizations (i.e. the comparison of measures such as Total Return to Shareholders and Org wide ROI to non-design led organizations).These are typically measured and defined by the impact of design actions and the amount of design leadership. 

Another viewpoint includes looking into ROI of Design Thinking at a more micro level— at a project, product, service, and/or team level. This can be identified in an increasing number of case studies as well in some more formalized reports such as IBM’s impact of Human-Centered Design report. The benefit of looking more granular into design thinking is providing wins to middle management and leadership as you begin to formalize human-centered design investment and team building. This also identifies opportunities to begin certain low-risk, high-reward projects and quick win measurements surrounding this. A rising example includes measurements within HR and employee functions as well as looking deeply into efficiency measurements when human-centered design is used in certain projects. 

However, this begs the question—how are design led organizations measuring the impact of design? 

If design is your way of work, permeated through your culture, is the same precedence and necessity around quantifying human-centered design still there? Should it be? 

Are we diluting the core of Human-Centered Design’s qualitative and story-telling impact by insisting on a dollar value?

Interested to learn more about the ROI Of Design Thinking? Check out our Design Thinking 301 Piece