an online conversation
about design management

Focus on measuring the benefit of design

The Design Ladder was developed by the Danish Design Centre (DDC) in 2003 as a tool to measure the level of design activity in Danish businesses. The Ladder, used as a framework for a survey, was the first step in developing a method to assess the economic benefits of design in Denmark.

The ladder has four stages that rate a businesses use of design.

There has been a small amount of local research that looks at how the design ladder applies to Australian companies. Victorian Government research showed the following results that are probably easily extrapolated across the country.

Stage 4 Design as innovation

Design drives all business activities to better understand user needs. Only 4 per cent of Victorian businesses were at the top step. These businesses have a strategic concept of design use. Design is at the core of their business culture.

Koko Black is an example of a company at this level. Established in Melbourne in 2003, Koko Black has seven ‘salons’ in Melbourne and one in Canberra. The company strives to create a world-class chocolate experience, a process that involves design in every aspect of the business. Where necessary, Koko Black draws on external design expertise, engaging international innovators to develop product lines and processes.

Stage 3 Design as process

Design is used to improve efficiency in bringing products and services to market. These businesses are actively using design to bring new products and services to market. There are 15 per cent of Victorian businesses on the third step.

SKM is an example of a company at this level. As a leading projects firm, with global capability in strategic consulting, engineering and project delivery SKM uses design thinking to explore ways to improve the processes used in their projects. This is shown in a recent publication called Insight Trading.

Stage 2 Design as styling

The use of design is primarily oriented towards the form and aesthetics of products and/or services. Nine per cent of Victorian businesses were found to use design for styling products or the positioning and branding of the company and its services.

Stage 1 Negligible use of design

Design plays a negligible role in a company’s business. Nine per cent of companies were in this category on the bottom step of the ladder. They are ineffective users of design.

The take away point

These figures show that only 37% of Australian businesses are using design with only 4% using design effectively. This means there is a massive market for our services. We don’t need to undercut each other to fight over the same clients when there is so much potential to introduce higher level design services to new clients.