The ROI of Good Design

Once you hear Canales & Co.’s Jose Canales discuss the relationship between design and return on investment (ROI), you may never look at what you do for a living the same way again. As he observes, once you start talking to potential clients about the ROI of what you do, “business owners trust you.”

I hope the following Q&A with Jose inspires you to rethink your own design game plan today.

Sabine Lenz: For many companies, design used to be an afterthought but it seems that design has a seat at the table these days. Is that your impression?

Jose Canales: Absolutely, look at companies like Apple who have made a living off of design. I mean that was the differentiator between Mac and Windows. I think it’s easier to sell [design] today, people understand how important it is. We have tons of case studies that show befores and afters of design that demonstrate a true ROI, an increase in revenue.

Lenz: ROI always mattered to the client, but as a creatives our attitude was “We’re going to create something pretty.” Nobody put us on the spot and said, “What’s the ROI on this one? What’s the ROI on pretty?” This has changed.

Canales: I went to art school, I was a fine art major. My roommates were business majors. And you could see there was a very different way the two personality types approached things. I look at our design community and it’s like all these designers and artists and creative types, they’re hanging out over here. And you see all these CEOs and startup people and entrepreneurs making tons of money and they’re over HERE. And the groups do not hang out together. There is no bridge. [As designers] we want something that looks handsome – that’s important to us. For them, first and foremost, it has to make business sense.

roi design jose

Lenz: I have to admit it wasn’t until you started telling me earlier about specific projects and specific, trackable ROIs, that I really understood how our role has changed.

Canales: La Posta is one of the wines we rebranded; the client didn’t change a thing about the liquid inside the bottle. They didn’t change a thing about how they marketed it. They didn’t do any kind of boost in advertising. The only thing they changed was the rebrand when they hired us to redesign the labels. And they measured that 24 months prior to the rebrand versus 24 months after, and there was a sales increase of 19%, a sustained lift.

Lenz: It’s really hard to argue with results like that, isn’t it? What’s the benefit of good design? In this case, a 19% sales boost.

Canales: When we go into any brief where we’re engaging a client for the first time, I always want to know, “How much are you selling right now? What key metrics are you going to measure and what are those for us to know that this project is a success? Like any businessperson, we have those key performance indicators (KPIs). What’s important to them? It’s usually revenue. People are paying us money so that they can make more money.

Lenz: Going in with this approach also changes the way your client looks at you, doesn’t it? You’re not just there talking about “making pretty things.”

Canales: Many times, designers fall in love with a design, the way that it looks on screen or the way that it looks in their hand. Well, who cares what it looks like in your hand?  The key is to get someone to buy it.

In our industry, shelf presence has to be number one. The product has to really stand out. The messaging has to be communicated clearly.  And if it doesn’t [stand out], then you’re disregarding those ROI goals that the business owner who hired you cares most about.

You have to realize this person is hiring me to do a job, and yes, good design is part of that job, but what is the end goal of good design? And at the end of the day, it’s revenue.

Our clients know that we’re thinking about the thing that’s important to them – that’s the way to bridge the gap. That’s when they trust us not just as creatives, but they trust that we care about their business.