Design ROI

Scott Francis
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I ran across this article on IBM counting on design’s ROI, and thought it of interest here.  Really interesting quote from our old friend Phil Gilbert:

Since then, I don’t think there has been as fundamental a change in the relationship between human beings and technology. The move from mainframe to mini-computer, the move from mini-computer to personal computer, the move to client-server computing — all of these things were actually fairly incremental. But I think in 2007, with the release of the iPhone and with the ubiquitous access via mobile devices, I actually think that we’re, again, in a time of real turmoil and change around this relationship of where does technology sit with human beings.

This is a real change, and I think that human-centered design and design thinking as a method to achieve human-centered design is why it’s become so important. Because our relationship with technology is, it may not be as frightening as it was in the 50s and 60s, but it certainly is fundamental. I don’t think we quite yet understand it. I think design is the primary lever that we have to understand that relationship and then to communicate that relationship.

Phil is definitely a big-picture thinker. Lots of peanut gallery nay-sayers didn’t think that Phil or his Design Studio could make an impact at a place like IBM.  But Phil understands cultural change well, and he has delivered the right mix to effect that change at IBM:

  • demonstrated wins in IBM BPM when he ran that group, and with the email re-think, Verse, as well as heavily influenced designs at several other groups.
  • tied this change into the culture by reminding people that he wasn’t overthrowing the IBM culture, but rather reminding IBM of its roots in design.
  • set up the mechanisms for scaling the Design effort at IBM, to make it more than just a pragmatic scale, but also a cultural scale.  This means getting executive buy-in to hire a ton of designers and put them through a design boot camp.

Phil’s take on his mission:

“My mission, as head of design here, is not to build a better product in the year 2015 or the year 2016. My mission is very simple and that is to create a sustainable culture of design at IBM. If I do that, or if we do that I should say, great product outcomes will occur.”

We miss having Phil in our BPM space, but it has been fun watching him work in the design space.  This year one of our own former interns goes to the IBM Design Studio, which I think speaks to the appeal of Phil’s program.

As to the ROI of design… BP3 is making our own smaller-scale bet on design.  It is what drives our efforts with Brazos UI, Brazos Portal, and Neches.  If we’re going to write a product, we’re really going to invest in the design.