Notes on the business case for design


Steve Calde is Business Director at Designit North America, handling business partnerships. Steve led the first iteration of Cooper Professional Education’s Design Thinking Immersive in 2001 and has remained a committed teacher since.

Despite the growing prevalence of design in the past 30 years, choosing to invest in design can feel like a difficult decision for business leaders. Simply put, it lacks defined outcomes and the processes can seem nebulous. 

In recent years, however, we have seen the emergence of “ROI of Design”-style reports. For example, the Design Management Institute determined that design-led companies outperformed the S&P by 219% and in addition outperformed their non-design-led competitors. They also suggests investments in design can yield a 225% return

Yet it is difficult to conduct extensive, rigorous studies on the value of design for one key reason: We don’t know the path not taken. While we can certainly say that working with a design firm saved any individual product X dollars or grew market-share by Y%, the reality is that we cannot compare that outcome to the hypothetical results of going without a design consultancy or of working with a different consulting firm. 

To grapple with this reality, I’ve identified three benefits of investing in design:

1. Avoiding risk. Decision-makers weigh money, outcomes, and risk when considering an investment. Undoubtedly, design adds a perceived cost when you factor in user research, consulting, and travel expenses. When you’re operating from a mindset of urgency, investing in the planning isn’t exactly appealing, but it almost guarantees saving money in the long run when you consider the full user journey. 

There’s more to consider than sales. When working with clients, I often pose the questions: How much money are you spending on customer support staff? How much money are you spending on onboarding new customers? Are you losing money to competitors with easier-to-use products? At the end of the day, a product that better meets the needs of your users is far less risky long-term. 

2. Testing for happiness. We all take pride in the work that we do, and technologists are no exception. When you capitalize on low-fidelity prototyping and testing with users, it provides you with this incredible opportunity to find quick, tangible ways to improve your product. Moreover, as you narrow in upon a concept, testing reveals your user in a genuinely happier state, an indicator that your product can powerfully build brand loyalty.

3. Examining the industry trends. Firms across management consulting, strategy, technology, and banking have begun to invest heavily in design strategy staff, with some going so far as to acquire design firms. While the integration of these domains is certainly no easy task, the statement these actions make is abundantly clear: Design is essential for improving services.

Design strategy is moving from a powerful tool to an essential practice for all organizations. In an era of immense technological possibility, only those with the ability to understand consumer needs will be able to effectively and profitably hone this strength. 

Interested in learning more about Cooper Professional Education and our philosophies around design and education? Read more on our curriculum and class schedules at

Steve Calde

Learn more

Subscribe to our mailing list and stay up to date on our latest thought leadership and learning opportunities.

Connect with us

Want to know how we can help your company drive real business progress?

Let’s talk

Stay up to date on our latest thought leadership and learning opportunities