Is a sale too complex to measure ROI on design, accurately?

 If most prospect design clients share the same sentiment, with Tom De Marco, that “you can’t control what you can’t measure,” then it’s inevitable that most will believe that investing in professional design is not that much of a necessity.

One of the hardest (and in most cases, impossible) thing to measure, accurately, is the Return On Invest made on design — be it graphic design, website design, user experience, User Interface, Product design, et cetera.

This makes it very difficult for designers to sell design to prospects. It’s much easier to sell something if you can show or provide tangible proof or results.
To overcome this challenge, companies that sell lose-weight-without-a-sweat products rely on Before-and-After pictures to build credibility and ultimately motivate consumers to make a sale.

I’ve never been a woman, duh!, but I heard that the way a guy presents himself counts, big time. The “presentation” is mostly made up by the way the guy is dressed and groomed. Let’s create a scene.

We have some guy walking in a mall. And, Bang.

He sees a good looking chick, a potential daughter-in-law to his mom.

He makes a move. She ends up telling him her name.

From that scenario, it’s unlikely that the guy will know what exactly made the woman give him her attention and a chance for him to promise her heaven-and-earth.

Fast Forward. The guy and the woman are now dating.

Do we credit the way the guy was dressed?, the guy’s looks or the “your father must be a terrorist, ‘cos you’re the bomb!” lame pickup line that he used?

Can it also be possible that the emotional state that the guy found the woman in, made a contribution? maybe she was just tired of being lonely?

If the guy is interested in having as many women as he can get, and say he knew that he won all of his ten girlfriends’ hearts ‘cos of the way he dresses — isn’t it obvious that he’ll invest more time and money into his attire instead of wasting time brainstorming and memorizing cheap pickup lines, as for him they bear no fruits.

This is a very simple, some may even find it silly, analogy but I believe it’s effective in supporting the points I am trying to raise with this post.

Let’s get back to business. (business, ROI and design, that is.)

This is how difficult it is, for a seller to know exactly what made the biggest impact in getting a sale.

When a consumer buys a tooth paste from, say, Colgate, can we really measure what pushed the consumer to choose their product? Could it have been the TV ads that they’ve been constantly fed? Or was it Colgate’s slick new packaging?

Maybe that the consumer grew up in a household that used Colgate’s toothpaste religiously? Or was it that Pick n Pay had an irresistible discount on the product that day? Or maybe, just maybe, Colgate was the only brand in stock at the time the consumer made their shopping?

Or better still, Colgate was wise enough to pay a premium for their product to be shelved on the “eye level” shelves, which is regarded as the most selling shelve space? Or the product, toothpaste, is just a great product on its own?

A sale process is simple, a consumer just select a product and then pay for it, right? Yes and No.

Yes that’s a simple procedure. And No, as the selecting a product part is complicated — that’s where design (plus branding, marketing, sales etc.) plays a huge role.

After a consumer acknowledges their need for a product, they have to make a choice from hundreds (and sometimes, thousands) of brands offering the same product. Let’s make it more intense. Brands competing for the same wallets.

This is a stage where companies rely on branding, sales, marketing, design, etc to make the actual product appealing to consumers.
It usually takes more that one discipline to sell a product or service.

I guess that’s what makes it even harder to measure returns from an investment made on design.

When great packaging attracts a consumer’s attention plus instill trust, and then, the consumer ends up buying the product.
What gets the pat on the back, design or the store manager for offering a 25% off discount.

Design does not exist in isolation. And usually when it contributes, usually the most, to a consumer making a sale, disciplines such as advertising, sales and marketing are usually praised.

Seth Godin, a marketing expert, mentioned “Marketers take a lot of credit, because marketing is near the end of the game.”

If it’s this hard (or impossible) to tell which discipline pushed a consumer to make a sale, how possible is measuring ROI — made on design?