Three times fabulous

Lisa Grocott’s delightfully candid admission ( that not one but three collaborations she worked on circa 2014 failed to deliver workable links between design thinking, research, and measurable take-up or improvements in service delivery is somewhat typical of the design industry; we know we have great ideas, but proving they’re great is much harder.

So I was equal parts thrilled and cynical at the article from Løvlie et al (2008, shown above) of live|work ( — cool website) when they claim they can measure the value that design brings to a product — not with just one system—but three.

The first point of theirs which grabbed me is that all the touch points of a service — online timetable, printed spreadsheet, iPhone notification or platform announcement — should thrill the costumer equally. There should be no poor cousins. Which is why service design is tough; there are multiple touchpoints, so many things need to be envisaged. The service is — after all — “manufactured” (p. 74) at the point of delivery.

Gross value added (GVA) is a useful working way of knowing how much, well, value a design solution adds. If we know the cost of maintaining Sydney’s roads, for instance, as well as the cost of providing monitoring services, emergency crews, speed cameras and the myriad other infrastructure (hard and soft) we need to deploy for people to drive into the city, we can work out the GVA of a car share model.

Triple bottom line metrics — with measurements for the consumer as well as the provider — are equally sensible. Economic, environmental and social factors (“Creates a sense of community”) are — if not all quantifiable — very useful. As is the attractive SU board room summary page and top 10 hit list.

Common to all these models is a bias toward action.

A word of caution. Projected calculations of break even points based on triple bottom line models are well and good, but they regularly go pop. England predicted the Australian colony would be self-sustaining within two or three years if my memories serve (The Fatal Shore has a good breakdown of the logic behind the projections…clearly, no-one counted on us having sandstone). Equally droll was the push by the Americans to become independent, not least because they begrudged paying taxes to the Mother Country. It will be cheaper (the logic went) if we secede! Tosh. Modelling is complicated.

That said, any metrics on a qualitative process are much to be lauded.

This article was reviewed as part of the coursework for the Master of Design Futures program at RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia.

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