Well folks, I've got good news and bad news.
The good news: "The American Association of Industrial Design has estimated: for every $1 invested in industrial design, you can regain $1,500 back."
The bad news: There's no such thing as the American Association of Industrial Design.
That statement was taken from an overseas press release that has been picked up as "news" by everyone from Marketwatch to regional NBC affiliates. The press release was designed to flog a particular country's design event. I refuse to link to it, for obvious reasons.
The closest such statistic I could locate was only marginally similar: Author Robert Pressman, in his Software Engineering: A Practitioner's Approach—a nearly thirty-year-old book now in its sixth printing—states that a problem that could be solved for $1 during the design phase, costs $10 to fix during development, and $100 to fix after the product's release. But they're talking about software programming errors, not industrial design.
In an article on UI and UX from earlier this year, Fast Company's Peter Eckert states that "Numerous industry studies have stated that every dollar spent on UX brings in between $2 and $100 dollars in return." I haven't seen the "numerous industry studies," but this at least sounds a little easier to swallow. I would honestly love to see the first article's study showing a 1:1500 return on investment chalked up solely to ID.
Folks, I'm all for trumpeting the business importance of good industrial design. But only where it involves manufacturing products, not statistics and entire organizations. It's one thing to bandy opinions about—in fact we welcome it—but when those promoting design start playing fast and loose with actual, hard numbers, I feel it makes our industry look bad to the people who are actually in control of the purse strings.