Why Invest in Design? Insights from Industry Leaders

Design is playing an increasingly vital role in innovation, competitiveness and the determination of economic value. However, assessing the impact of design or isolating the design factor can be a challenge for a number of reasons. Design is an enabling discipline, and designers working with professionals from other disciplines add value to the process and to the end result. Design is also a crucial factor in many activities that successful organizations do well, from innovation and new product development, to operations and human resource management, to communications and branding. And like most serious organizational strategies, design is not a quick fix. It requires investment over time and commitment from organizational leaders in order to deliver significant returns.

To find out why successful organizations have invested in design and how their leaders think about design’s role in innovation, the Design Industry Advisory Committee, working with the Martin Prosperity Institute at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto, have conducted a series of interviews with industry leaders. Our case study organizations are working at the cutting edge of innovation and they are all internationally recognized in their industry sectors. Funding for this research was provided by Industry Canada, with additional support from the City of Toronto.

The findings of this research project shed light on the impacts and benefits of investing in design by providing specific case study examples and testimony from industry leaders. The in-depth interviews were based on a questionnaire that focused on the role of design in corporate strategy, financial investment, innovation and new product development, manufacturing process and corporate culture. The interviews were videotaped and recorded. Excerpts from the interviews may be viewed in a short video at:

These organizations operate in different sectors, but all of these leaders talked about a common set of design-related activities that are important to the sustainability of their organizations, to the successful commercialization of innovation, and to the engagement of creative talent at a high level. These activities are summarized in the 10 positive indicators of design investment identified in this report. We have used quotes from the interview subjects to illustrate how each organization leverages design in these activities.

The over-arching indicator of successful investment in design identified in this research is a long-term perspective on innovation. All of our interview subjects talked about the importance of investing for the long term and continuing to invest in design even in recessionary times. This long-term perspective makes it possible for the other activities to take place.

This study aims to increase the appreciation of the role of design and encourage more businesses to use the creativity and problem solving skills of designers to enhance economic, social and environmental outcomes. We hope that this project and the positive indicators of design investment that we have identified will lay the foundation for future research on this theme.

Download this report (PDF).

About the Design Industry Advisory Committee (DIAC)

The Design Industry Advisory Committee is a non-profit, cross-disciplinary design research organization established in 2001. DIAC programs and research focus on ways to leverage the capability of designers from all disciplines to achieve economic and social prosperity. DIAC’s board represents the design associations in Ontario:

  • Association of Chartered Industrial Designers of Ontario (ACIDO)
  • Association of Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario (RGD)
  • Association of Registered Interior Designers of Ontario (ARIDO)
  • Ontario Association of Architects/Toronto Society of Architects (OAA/TSA)
  • Ontario Association of Landscape Architects (OALA) and
  • Fashion Industry Liaison Committee (FILC)