The European leg of the annual Design Management Institute (DMI) conference took place in Copenhagen last week. I’m a regular attendee and my perception is that they are becoming increasingly relevant to a European audience (where previously they have been quite US-centric) and less academic (which has been a criticism in the past). It was hosted in part at the Danish Design Centre, a temple of cool if ever there was one; their pack included a nice retrospective of the impact of Danish design.
So, what of the content? The tone was nicely set by Darrell Rhea, CEO of Cheskin who have pioneered design research methodologies as a means of creating competitive advantage for clients over the last 60 years. His keynote address reflected, and started to create a language for, emerging trends in design management. In particular he stressed the role of the designer in finding ways of creating meaning for consumers of which more later. Their primer on ethnography is a cracking introduction to the topic.
Of the other speakers, the resounding theme was to stress the importance of demonstrating the impact that design can have to a business but few were able to give real insights as to how best this can be achieved. Pia Mathiesen, Director of Design at the Danish State Railway used strong metrics based on qualitative assessment of user experience but had a lot of support when she cautioned against trying to “break the butterfly of design on the wheel of measurement”.
Han Hendriks and Roderique Duell of Johnson Controls gave for me the most striking presentation showing how this enormous manufacturer of car cockpits manages the design process and correlates their investment in design to final profitability. Impressive stuff, mainly because it demonstrated what can be achieved when an entire organisation is focussed around usability: all metrics, management structures and rewards contribute to this approach and it was a masterclass in why it is impossible to “bolt on” measurement after the event, it must be integrated throughout the company.
Finally, Harry Rich of the UK Design Council (who always gives good value) shared their research on the impact of design which they have distilled into a one-stop shop. A great resource.
Overall, my impression is that there is still a lot of fear around the question of measurement with few breakthrough insights. Best practice seems to be incorporating metrics into a user-driven business model, but we all know how hard it is to achieve that.