Design Currency: Understand, define, and promote the value of your design work By Jenn Visocky O’Grady, Ken Visocky O’Grady

Picture Perfect Practice

Designers are sometimes seen as ephemeral beings concerned about fonts, pixels, and pretty colors (and like to use phrases like “the emotional brand experience.”) Things that, to the rest of an organization, may seem like trivial matters when compared to the things they have to deal with in their cold, harsh world.

Thus, it’s important for designers to be able to define the value and importance of what they contribute. This book is a wonderful primer for being taken seriously as a designer.

While it’s not a large book, and it has many bright, colorful, well-designed charts, graphs and illustrations, it is still a very dense read that demands a lot of thinking and introspection on the part of the reader and his/her team. One of the best aspects of the book are all the models and mental frameworks the authors introduce that cover a wide variety of purposes. Everything from frameworks that help organize thoughts and guide brainstorming sessions with your team and clients to logic models used to sort information. The authors also provide thought exercises to help the reader figure out their own strengths and weaknesses and how they can best position themselves in a rapidly-changing design world.

Metrics and defining business impact are given a couple of chapters. Metrics that are probably familiar to most readers (at least in passing) such as ROI (return on investment) and Cost/Benefit Analysis are talked about. The authors also go into how to set metrics worth measuring (using the acronym SMART as a guide: Simple, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, Time-Based.) The authors also provide an overview of a few performance-evaluating frameworks such as Balanced Scorecard and The Four Powers of Design. Defining business impact can seem like an impossible task. However, the authors kindly point the reader to work by Design Council and The Design Effectiveness study (respectively) that the reader can delver further into and arm themselves with real world facts and studies that illustrate connections between design and business metrics. The Economic Effects of Design (a study that emerged through a partnership between the Danish National Agency for Enterprise and Housing and the Danish Design Centre) also provides useful findings between design and success in business that are well worth any designer’s time to consult.

The authors devote a chapter to tools used to determine the wants, needs and behaviors of the audience (the people who will actually be using the product the designer and client are collaborating on.) User-centered design, ethnography, research strategy outlines, logic models and other highly useful concepts await the reader. Additional useful frameworks to organize the design team’s data are also showcased.

The last section of the book is devoted to actual case studies of solutions devised by design firms for a wide variety of clients. Many of them are quite fascinating: the rebranding of Rome-based Babington’s English Tea Rooms (done on a limited budget, marketing to an audience composed mainly of tourists who have a wide variety of tea and coffee shops to chose from), Konjo Initiative (involving residents of Kibera, Kenya to create handmade leather sandals as a path out of poverty) and the MiWay Transit Program (which was about communicating to the residents of Mississauga, Ontario about the expansion and development of their city’s public transportation.) There are many others equally interesting and inspiring.

All in all, this is a fantastic resource for designers (and also a good read for project managers and anyone else working as part of a creative team.)


Authors: Jenn Visocky O’Grady, Ken Visocky O’Grady
Publisher: New Riders Press
Formats: Paperback, Ebook
Print: July 1, 2013
Ebook: July 1, 2013
Pages: 240
Paperback: ISBN-10: 0-321-84492-0  |  ISBN-13: 978-0-321-84492-7

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