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Title: Comment Calculating the cost/benefits of design

Pages: 23

   

Author: Editorial

Text: Comment
Calculating the cost/benefits of design
Management Today*, Britain's new rival to America's glossy business magazine, Fortune' has some things to say in its first editorial which should provoke serious thought among all those who are concerned to improve the quality of design in British industry. ''The object of any British manager", the editorial says, "must be to raise the effectiveness of his company to the highest international standards." The writer defines the use of the word 'effectiveness' in unequivocal terms: ''The purpose of business is to use its resources with maximum efficiency, and unless that efficiency is measured through the profit-and-loss account, it cannot be measured at all.''
Even the Labour party, the editorial slily observes, has recognised this to a degree which would have been unthinkable in 1950. But how far has it been recognised by designers and particularly by those responsible for managing company design policies? To what extent are the resources of design being used with maximum efficiency, and what attempt is being made to measure their effectiveness ?
All too often, the challenge of such questions produces in managers a look of blank surprise - surprise that the questions could be of concern to anyone but themselves, or maybe that it should be thought remotely possible to provide answers. The idea that good design is good business has for too long, perhaps, been taken as a statement of faith. And like other matters of faith, it has produced both its believers and its non-believers.
Conditions of modern business, however, require more demonstrable proof. Many industries, particularly in the engineering field, have managed well enough in the past without industrial design. More than faith will be needed to persuade them that the additional costs of taking on designers, and of changing their methods, will be a profitable investment.
It is not a simple problem, for more than short-term cash returns are involved. And the more complex the product' the more difficult it is to isolate any one factor as contributing to success or faiIure. But, if irrefutabIe proof cannot always be found, then strong circumstantial evidence shouId be available in plenty. And what British design needs, almost more than anything else at the present stage in its history' is a body of evidence to show the kinds of reward that industry can expect from its investment in design.
How could such a body of knowledge be obtained ? It might be too much to expect industry itself to prepare the sort of evidence that is needed. What it could do' however, is to sponsor a post-graduate fellowship whose object would be to cost the industrial design function in considerably more detail than most firms at present seem prepared to do; to evaluate and quantify the rewards in terms of rationalisation, productivity, user conveuience, safety, sales and so on; and to make this information available to the design profession, and to others as appropriate, for the benefit of industry as a whole.
The Americans seem to have gone a good deal further than we have in compiling such information, and many of the larger design offices are able to offer new clients convincing evidence of success in businsss terms. In Britain we are nervous of disclosing facts and figures, even if we have them. One thing, however, is certain. A rapid expansion of design effort is needed to holster our export trade' and nothing will do this more effectively than a greater knowledge of the cost/ benefits of design. Now is the time for industry to take up the challenge.
J.E.B.
*Management Publications Ltd, monthly, 10s.

 

 

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