05 Global Design Forum – The Business Value of Design

by Alex Blyth, Co-owner & Editorial Director,


The V&A’s buzzing this week – the London Design Festival is in full swing across the city, and this week the Global Design Forum is bringing the world’s leading design thinkers together in the V&A for a series of talks and panel discussions.

Today’s keynote session saw McKinsey Design present the findings of a five-year research project into the business value of design. It has looked at 300 companies, seeing how 2 million datapoints on financial performance correlates with thousands of design actions. The team is still crunching through the data, but Benedict Sheppard, McKinsey Partner, was able today to offer four clear messages that are emerging.

In simple terms, businesses enjoy financial success when design is more than a feeling, is more than a department, is more than a phase, and is more than a product.

Design needs to be measured with the same rigour as financials are measured – intuition alone is not enough. Design must be embedded throughout an organisation, not siloed off in a function. Design must be continually iterated not “done”. And design must embrace service and experience as much as product.

Get all that right and you’ll be a successful business, according to McKinsey Design. Sheppard was followed by speakers from the corporate world who brought this theory to life.

Paul Stott from AstraZeneca talked us through the design of a diabetes treatment, from the discovery in the 1990s that the Gila monster (a lizard found on the West coast of North America) has a hormone in its saliva that stimulates insulin production, through to the latest iteration of a treatment that has a drug that replicates that saliva, delivered in a way that is safe, easy, simple and sustainable.

Then Jannis Sutor, Design Lead at Volkswagen, gave us a glimpse into how his firm is thinking its way through a strategic shift in transportation. From the One Button – press it and an autonomous vehicle is on its way to you – to personal drones, vertical mobility (your vehicle goes up the side of the building) and the driverless car (the prototype his team has designed is on display now at the V&A) this is a business where financial performance is intrinsically linked to design actions.

The full result of the McKinsey survey – due for release in late October – will be interesting reading. In the meantime, however, we should pause to reflect on the fact that McKinsey, the high priests of rational, accounting-based management consulting, now employs 350 designers – if we needed any evidence of the growing realisation of the role played by design in business performance it’s right there.

Share This