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Money Isn’t Everything: Metrics Beyond the Benjamins

While looking at revenue is one way of making a case for the success or failure of a project, money isn’t the only—or even best—way of framing performance.

Often, financial metrics are strictly focused on hard value, with roots in manufacturing-based economies: “We make widgets. They cost 10 cents to manufacture and sell for 20 cents. One-hundred percent return on investment. Now sell a million!”

As economies become more complex, traditional tools like ROI and CBA are less effective singular measures because they provide only one perspective on performance. Today’s practitioner needs to look beyond financial measures to make the case for design.

A popular and current business approach that should resonate with creatives struggling to pin a price on soft value, sets success metrics by defining each project in terms of Goals, Outputs, and Outcomes. Here’s how it works:


Goals define why a project was commissioned and the purpose(s) driving all associated actions. For example, a design team is hired to create a mobile application that fosters health-care communication. A primary goal may be to increase online dialogue between patient and clinician, and decrease unnecessary emergency room visits. Secondary goals might include empowering patients by demystifying disease, explaining treatment procedures, and encouraging independence. Project goals should be defined between client and designer at the onset of their working agreement. An easy question to begin the conversation is “What does success look like?”


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A popular concept in business circles, Goals, Outputs, and Outcomes help quickly clarify how design solutions meet business objectives.

Determining what, when, and how to measure is one of the most complicated components of setting metrics, especially for those new to the process. The acronym SMART, which commonly stands for Simple, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, and Timely, is employed in user experience and information technology circles to help set—you’ve got it—smart metrics. SMART is a quick way to define the characteristics of functional metrics. Use this tool to determine if you’re setting the right benchmarks.


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Use the simple acronym SMART to help you and your client set metrics at the beginning of a project. To manage expectations, be sure both parties are in agreement on the established metrics before diving in.

While the concept of tracking the impact and success of traditional graphic design practice may be novel, our sister professions of interaction and user experience design have been doing this for a long time. The underlying principles of setting a good metric, as outlined by SMART, can be broadly applied to any design endeavor.

  • Work closely with your clients to determine a shared vision for each project.

What is it that your client specifically wish to achieve? What will be produced? And what are the desired outcomes? Can they be measured? Connect your design activities with the client’s goals, and work with them to develop systems to track success, tailoring metrics to their specific needs. To make this easier, at the beginning of a project, ask your client how he or she has historically determined business success. Are there ways to align your services with things the client is already measuring? Tools, like customer satisfaction surveys, may be in place and easily adapted to your project’s needs.

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