Despite the growing recognition of industrial design’s value in creating sustainable competitive advantage, few studies have attempted to quantify the contribution that design makes to company financial performance. This article examines the relationship between industrial design and company financial performance in order to assess industrial design’s contribution to this performance. Effective industrial design was evaluated by asking a panel of 138 industrial design experts to rank the industrial design effectiveness of publicly traded firms within nine selected manufacturing industries; the ranking process yielded 93 firms. Based on the rankings, firms within each industry were divided into two groups: those judged as exhibiting high design effectiveness versus those judged as low in design effectiveness. Audited financial data reported to the SEC across a seven-year period from 1995 to 2001 were used to evaluate financial performance.
Using traditional financial ratios senior managers consider essential performance measures, those firms with high design effectiveness were hypothesized to have higher returns on sales, returns on assets, and growth rates of sales, net income, and cash flow than firms with low design effectiveness. High design effectiveness firms further were hypothesized to have higher stock market returns. These comprehensive, corporate financial measures incorporate expenditures made on industrial design (industrial designers’ salaries, design consultants’ fees, computer-aided industrial design equipment) and expenditures that designers influence through their design choices (material costs, manufacturing equipment).
This analysis reveals that firms rated as having “good” design were stronger on all measures except growth rate measures. These results provide strong evidence that good industrial design is related to corporate financial performance and stock market performance even after considering expenditures on industrial design. Further, the patterns of financial performance over the seven-year horizon suggest that these effects are persistent.