Three Metrics for Design Evaluation

Design is about the creation of products, services, policies, and systems for use and benefit. It’s a structured, creative process that shapes what we do, how we do it, and what impact we create. Design is fundamentally about innovation: doing something different or new for benefit within a context.

Inspiration, Utility, and Values

How should we measure design and its impact on our organization? We suggest three core evaluation metrics above all to consider.

  1. Inspiration. A design has to inspire you. If you’re not excited about what you’re producing, why would it inspire your clients, customers, or users? By inspiration, we mean that it must capture or focus attention, delight, or attract energy. It does not mean a design has to be glamorous, just that it’s noticed for its purpose or appropriately invisible. For example, creating a negative opt-in to organ donation on driver’s license renewal forms vastly increases the donor pool (and reflects the desire of the population to be donors in the process) because it means people have to choose not to donate, rather than the opposite. Even with something benign like a form adjustment, Inspiration is an outcome.
  2. Utility. Use is the second key metric. Design is about being fit for purpose and if there is a poor fit then the benefits will also be poor. A great design fits the purpose for what it was designed for and is useful. It doesn’t have to be the best, just useful and better than the available alternatives. If your design is not used, then no matter how functional, attractive, or conceptually sound it is, it is a failure.
  3. Values. The alignment of your design with the values of your organization is critical to ensuring that the benefits that you accrue are the ones you want. If you value sustainability and responsibility, then your design has to reflect that. To illustrate, if you’re a company or organization that stands for human rights and ethical practices, what you produce (your designs) needs to reflect that. We see a lot of problems with organizations that say one thing and then design for something else.

From Perfection to Fit

There are no ‘perfect’ designs. A design is made within a time and context and the value and benefit of that design will change over time as the context changes. Even if we want things to stay the same and stable, the world around our designs is changing and evolving. Designs are also made with constraints posed by resources, time, and circumstances. However, design is designed — your process and procedures need to aspire and be set up to achieve the results you’re looking for.

These changes are why evaluation is such an important part of design: we need to continue to monitor and evaluate our designs in light of changes in context and circumstance.

We can’t hope for inspiration, utility, and alignment with values unless we design our designs to match that. Models like the Design Helix (below) can provide some guidance on what can be done to facilitate this.

The process of design and innovation is part art and part science. If you’re looking to design better — whether it’s to improve your products and services, make better policies, or build a culture of innovation we can help. Let’s talk.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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