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A second reading of McKinsey on design
by Erik Roscam Abbing
A few months ago, McKinsey published an amazing study on the correlation between design and financial business performance at 300 publicly listed companies. It took me a while to digest this study and to gather my thoughts.
At first reading of the study I was extremely impressed (dang they’ve done it again), grateful (I’m going to send this to all my prospects) and professionally respectful (what rigour!): in a true Mckinsey manner, Benedict Sheppard, Hugo Sarrazin, Garen Kouyoumjian, and Fabricio Dore have succeeded in building a case for design that is bound to convince the c-suite like no other piece on design’s value has done before (and there are many). They establish a rigorous correlation between design and financial business performance. On top of that, they unpack design in 4 themes that each give concrete action items to work on in order to unlock this value.
McKinsey has succeeded in building a case for design that is bound to convince the c-suite like no other piece on design’s value has done before.
Image courtesy of McKinsey
But on second reading I’ve developed some more reflective observations that I’d like to share with you.
Value in many variations
McKinsey calculates the correlation between design and financial business success: “…Our team collected more than two million pieces of financial data and recorded more than 100,000 design actions… Advanced regression analysis uncovered the 12 actions showing the greatest correlation with improved financial performance and clustered these actions into four broad themes”.
Making money is obviously one of the key imperatives for businesses, but fortunately, for most clients we work with at Livework, it’s not the only imperative. In our experience, yes, design can be used successfully to increase turnover, margin or reduce costs. But very often, we are asked to use our design skills for social, environmental or societal causes. We may be asked to design for improved collaboration between stakeholders in an ecosystem, or for the involvement of citizens in public sector decision making, or for the adoption of sustainable innovations that require behaviour change. These interventions generate value that is not directly, or solely monetary. But it’s important value and we need to design for it.
In the current timeframe of great environmental, social and societal challenges, I’d be very interested in design’s contribution to this holistic value perspective.
Involve the doers
Lastly, I would be interested in the extent to which McKinsey will be able to act upon its own insights. It is one thing to establish a correlation statistically. It’s quite another to actually make it happen, in the trenches of the business where the real work takes place. As designers, my colleagues and I at Livework recognise all the elements and activities of design McKinsey points at. We’ve been doing it for quite a while. We’re comfortable with it and yes, over the years, we’ve gotten good at it. And, obviously, we’re not the only ones. The design industry is flourishing like never before and is creating more lasting impact than ever, both by in-house teams as well as consultancies. And by people who would never call themselves designers.
So here’s an invitation to McKinsey: use the wisdom and long-standing experience of the design community to put to action what you’re advising those CEO’s
Mckinsey has acquired their share of design consultancies (with Lunar and Veryday they’ve acquired a few of the best of breed). But given the magnitude of their research and the importance of the correlations they’ve established, those design consultancies alone won’t be enough to turn what they preach into practice. So here’s an invitation to McKinsey: use the wisdom and long-standing experience of the design community (at Livework we’ve been at it for 17 years) to put to action what you’re advising those CEO’s. The design community could use your power to convince in the boardroom. And you could use our experience in making it happen, in a way that will empower those CEO’s to be good for users, the economy, the environment and society. Oh yes, and make some money along the way.