The Design Value Framework

Design shapes the world. It has huge power and with that comes responsibility. We can design things in, and we can design things out. The more intentional we are about this, the more design can make life better for all. We all need to consider the impact of our practice, so does the Design Framework help us do that?


Over the years the Design Council has established design’s value to the economic health to the UK. According to their latest findings, in 2020 the design economy accounted for just under two million jobs.

But design also has significant social, cultural, environmental and democratic impact. This can be through the direct impact of a design on society and the planet, especially when an explicit part of the brief or the organisation’s purpose. But quite often, the impact is indirect and the result of wider ‘ripple’ effects brought about by that design. An inclusive design process can create something that meets the immediate needs of people and can give them agency and power through that process. However, in the long-term, these new designs can go on to change the paradigms of how, as a society, we think and behave, which in turn gives rise to further innovative design.

These further values are often overlooked because, on the whole, they have not historically been the primary objective of design (or western capitalist activity). They are also varied, difficult to assess and aggregate into a single metric, unlike the pound sign, and sometimes difficult to attribute wholly to a single design.

However, things are changing. COVID-19, Black Lives Matter and the climate crisis have highlighted the need to value environmental and social benefits as much as economic ones. Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) criteria are also now flowing through sectors, including financial services. They are beginning to be deeply embedded into organisational purposes, as pioneered by the B Corporations movement.

As part of our Design Economy research, the Design Council have developed a Design Value Framework to make visible and help measure these social, environmental and democratic impacts—in addition to clear financial ones. The Design Coucnil will use this in their work to assess the value of the overall design economy. The Framework can also be used by designers and commissioners to identify and assess the holistic value of their individual projects.

What exactly is the Framework?

The Design Value Framework is a structured way of mapping and assessing the impact of design in four interconnected domains of value: socio-cultural, environmental, democratic and financial-economic. These can be positive, but the Framework can also capture negative impacts.

It consists of two elements:

  1. A Value Map that outlines the four domains of design value covered by this Framework (socio-cultural, financial, environmental and democratic); two mechanisms of design where impact occurs (through design projects and processes, and the activities of design organisations); and types of activities that happen within those.

  2. A Value Assessment Table that provides example indicators and references to relevant tools which can be used to measure the impact of design.

The key areas to cosnider in design practice and projects are: design, production, lifespan and the wider/spillover effects. In respect to organisations using design, the key areas are strategy, operations, infrastructure and wider/spillover effects.

A work in progress

The Design Value Framework is a working prototype and is intended to grow, evolve and be adapted for different contexts. The intention is to consider the impact of design beyond financial and economic benefits. The Design Value Framework is a conceptual model and communication device. It can be used in conjunction with the Design Council’s Systemic Design Framework.

Its purpose is to make visible the holistic value of design Other frameworks exist to measure value in specific design and industry sectors. In architecture and construction there are the Royal Institute of British Architects’ Social Value Toolkit, the Construction Innovation Hub’s Value Toolkit and others such as Building Research Establishment’s Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM). Fashion uses the Higg Index and Fashion Transparency Index, among others. In business, the Dow Jones Sustainability Index charts ‘best in class’ companies for their environmental, social, governance and economic approach.

There are parallels here with Industry 5.0, which you might also wish to investigate further, but the Design Council has laid down a model which all designers should consider in the course of their practice, and clients in their application of design.

Source: The Design Value Framework, Design Council, 2022.