The best graphic designers are leaders who deserve to be promoted to the executive suite—most companies just don’t know it yet.

Companies often don’t realize how important designers are because they don’t know how to measure the value of design. Recently, McKinsey reported that more than 50% of companies have no set targets for their product design teams and because they don’t know how to assess the design team, the design team receives fewer resources.

This is a shame. Although many people believe design is as subjective as art, the truth is that design value can be measured. Just think about the role design plays in branding: Design is how consumers experience the brand, the package design is the “First Moment of Truth”, and what drives consumer purchasing decisions. So how can designers prove to executives that what they do is valuable and deserving of a seat at the table?

Use Data to Show Design Value

Just as most companies don’t know designers are capable of becoming great business leaders; many designers don’t know how to become business leaders. Majority of the designers I know spent a lot of time studying Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign, and less about business finance, digital marketing, and operations, so I want to help them better understand how to get a seat at the table.

The first step to being taken seriously is having the right data. If a design leader comes to an executive armed with data, results, and KPIs, she will be taken seriously. Imagine: A designer tells an executive she was able to reduce the design-to-launch time from three months to one month, thereby beating the competitors to market and capturing $1.5 million in sales. That kind of information would easily turn heads in the boardroom.

But these conversations don’t always happen. Often, I hear graphic designers claim they’re “allergic to numbers.” This is unfortunate because, in order to succeed, leaders must quantify the value of their teams.

Designers must measure output and customer feedback. McKinsey researchers wrote that companies that quantified design value had the best success. These companies tied customer satisfaction to long-term commercial impact and senior management bonuses to customer satisfaction. They even had indirect measures, such as design awards and consumer-satisfaction metrics. These design measurements paid off: Companies had better revenue, better customer satisfaction, and a larger shareholder return.

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Listening and Testing

To get the best design measurements, designers have to listen to and test their designs with consumers. McKinsey finds that 40% of companies aren’t talking to consumers during product development. For designers, this is akin to flipping a coin—you’re merely guessing what your customers want to see.

Although it used to be difficult to test packaging design and listen to consumers—organizing in-person focus groups could take months—companies can now digitize their packaging operations and test designs with consumers instantly.

To test designs digitally, designers can create 3D mockups of packages for online panel testing, even putting their packages into virtual reality. Consumers can view the product in a number of realistic settings such as a retail shelf or inside a dimly lit bar. When coupled with newer technology, like eye-tracking, designers can see the visual impact the package has through heat maps and make the appropriate label and artwork adjustments, ensuring a successful product launch.

Two Ways to Consistently Deliver Results

In its report, McKinsey asks a question it never answers: “How do companies deliver exceptional designs, launch after launch?”

The answer is simple. Not only are companies that deliver exceptional designs those that hire and promote great designers into leadership roles, but they’re also companies that have the organizational capabilities to do two things:

1. Digitize design and creative operations

The best companies use a packaging management workflow software to improve the visibility of the design-to-launch process and link cross-functional teams. Yes, designers benefit from this, but so do all the departments involved. When everyone who contributes to a project is given the ability to keep their work organized and accessible, there are fewer delays, fewer reviews, and a more efficient process.

Instead of blindly navigating through the creation process, designers can investigate problems and take countermeasures to improve the project. Digitization gives design leaders the ability to continuously iterate and create quality projects every time. For those who get the process right, the days of bombing a new product launch are over.

Digitizing a packaging project also gives designers exactly what they need to get a seat at the executive table: KPIs. When did a project start? When did it end? How much time did it take? This is where designers can really tie their process to value for the company by showing how much time they saved.

2. Automate

Automation helps improve the quality and speed of production, both of which will save costs. Instead of worrying about a proofreader missing an error or a brand manager impeding a process, automation can help processes run seamlessly by checking spelling, barcodes and even Braille against an approved profile.

An automated process helps designers, too: If administrative tasks are automated designers will focus their creative efforts in Illustrator creating new designs versus sending files via Outlook email and updating project statuses via Excel spreadsheets.

Resist Subjectivity

To designers: Don’t let your career be at the mercy of subjectivity. By using objective measurements, you can show people exactly what value you bring to the company. Designers deserve a seat at the table—those who claim their seat will be the designers who aren’t allergic to numbers, who can generate KPIs and prove their value every time.

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