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Measuring and Compensating Design

Evaluating and measuring a design’s worth, and determining a designer’s compensation for the design, are challenges facing every organization that brings original products to market.

The task is not an easy one. Too many variables beyond the designer’s influence are at play. Attempting to arrive at a fair value oftentimes results in, at worst, an unfair arrangement, or at best, an ambiguous result.
In contrast, measuring and compensating salespeople is straightforward. The process is based on quantifiable numbers, and a good year normally equates to a good bonus. On the other hand, evaluating the more subjective work of creative people and compensating them appropriately remains more art than science.

Designer compensation is in many cases tied to commercial success. It’s a measurable metric, yes, but is it the best metric, or even a fair one? The fact that a product is a commercial success does not necessarily mean that it is a good design or even a successful design. A successfully designed product or service meets and surpasses customer expectations, connecting with them at both the rational and emotional levels. The design is only as good as the design brief that originated it, and a design brief is only as good as the insight that helped create it.

Any number of external factors can influence a design’s success: the marketplace, the economy, the marketing support, the launch timing, the current state of the brand. Designers usually do not drive the overall sales and marketing strategies, so in a way, they rely on the performance of others to be compensated.

In my opinion, design can only be evaluated and measured fairly by how the design responds to or addresses the problem stated on the design brief. Ideally, the designer works closely with the business team to create a design brief, if not a business brief, that takes into account how the product goes to market as well as its anticipated return on investment. Only through this type of knowledge sharing and collaboration can a design’s true value be measured.

Manuel Saez

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  • Manuel Saez

    Michael, great comment, we can not take the design brief as a rigid document. The brief is a living document that evolves and should be updated collaboratively by the client and the designer after each review meeting. They can provide a checkpoint and a way of measuring results. The knowledge and creativity of the designer has to be focused in order to provide the best value to the client. This is not to say that is limiting, just to channel the creative energy. True innovation only comes when there are clear constraints.


  • michael poindexter

    I agree with Manuel that there are to many "external factors" contributing to the success of a product. But the problem lies in the brief and trying to anticipate the thoroughness of that brief. If the client is to detailed the end result will be to rigid, lacking the full potential of a great design. If the client is to vague the design can float off and not hit the target. The right questions needs to be asked of the client as the conversation starts. Where the conversation goes will be the success of the design.