Biggest frustration of all designers is that their managers don’t see the value of their work, don’t really understand its power and don’t really care much about the user and his needs.
Last night I attended the IXDA meet-up #70 — Leadership in Design. One of the speakers at the meet-up was Pamela Mead, VP of Global Product Design at DeliveryHero. She gave me many points to think about and reflect upon and I too like many others have asked myself why designers always need to explain themselves and their work, and despite all these articles and media exposure, which no other industry has, business owners still do not seem to get it.
Last year McKinsey published their famous report where they once again for the millionth time try to explain the business value of design. And I remember the joy I experienced, for a second, thinking that this time the message will be understood because it was spoken by such a powerful voice.
But was it really understood?
When a company is “Sales-Led” for example, design is seen either as a “styling tool”, a “hot fix machine” or a “make things pretty factory”. If you look at this from a non-designer point of view, one can almost argue that it is understandable, mainly because like Peter Drucker says:
“Making money for a company is like oxygen for a person; if you don’t have enough of it you’re out of the game.”
So naturally the focus is on other things that have a higher priority on the “money making” ladder. And if that works, and the company earns money, then, to the business owner, it doesn’t really matter how the product looks, feels or behaves as long as to some extent it is getting the job done.
The problem that I see, lies in the one sided, tunnel like vision that such an approach creates. It’s somewhere on the lines of thinking that life is only about eating. It kinda makes you miss out on many other important and perhaps even more valuable things.
The gap between Design and Business
It’s real and it’s there. The CEO’s or CFO’s or CSO’s or COO’s of most digital companies don’t understand why designers do the things they do, and designers in turn don’t always understand why business owners do the things they do and why many a times they refuse to accept points of view different than their own.
In my opinion this happens because we each bring different mindsets to the table. So let’s dissect this it a little bit further, shall we.
1. Designers are motivated by purpose, business owners are motivated by money
Designers are more purpose-driven than money-driven. Mainly because those of us that go after a career in design are typically not in it for the money. If we were in it for the money, we would have attended a business school, not an art school which is by far more difficult, takes longer, is more complex and sometimes is even more challenging. Bringing value to the users and seeing how the actions taken contribute to that value is what brings motivation to a designer.
2. Designers care about the user, business managers care about goals and numbers
We generally want to create things, and most of these things are for other people. Thus they should be useful to them, bring value, make their lives better and solve one or some of their problems. In comparison business people want to buy low and sell high, and in turn don’t much care about the end user or his problems. They need goals to be efficient and motivated, designers need purpose, meaning and value. By bringing meaning and purpose to the business, design drives commitment and engagement, which in the long run leads to better business performance. Because for most employees, there is nothing more energising or satisfying than seeing how your work helps solve real user problems.
3. Designers care about solving problems, business managers care about profit
Design is not about making things pretty, it is a method of problem solving. Whether it is an architectural blueprint, a booking application, a brochure, the signage system at an airport, something that helps you order your meal or plan your next holiday, a chair, or a better way to streamline production on the factory floor — at the end of the day design helps solve problems.
However, the prototyping mindset that design and design thinking can bring to an organisation can help to find the right questions, gather relevant insights, and validate choices. And this in turn makes sure that the products and services that are delivered are needed, valuable and useful to the user which in the end contribute to a superior business performance.
The position design should occupy in a company
Many business owners never feel the need to integrate design into their business strategy. Either because they don’t see the value of it, don’t understand how design can really help them or simply don’t care about it because it’s not important to them and their goals.
To understand where design is positioned presently in your company, I would like to share the following example of a model created by the Danish Design Centre in 2003 as a tool to measure the level of design activity in business.
It will probably not come as a surprise, that I advocate for design being at least at Step number 3 if not 4. And I say this because in companies where design is seen as an integrated part of the business strategy, and solutions are driven by the problem, the users and their needs, business performance is far superior compared to those companies that don’t consider design at all. Going back to that same famous McKinsey study as reference, good design matters whether your company focuses on physical goods, digital products, services, or some combination of these.
This being said, let’s look now at the 4 basic ingredients for including design in your company:
1. Build a design system
A design system is the single source of truth which groups all the elements that will allow the team to design, realise and develop a product. It consists of a set of guidelines and a repository of patterns, components and assets a company has.
2. Introduce a design process
The design process is a framework of methodologies and good practices to ensure a high quality standard and consistency in the work done. Having such a framework can facilitate collaboration and makes other tools and methodologies more accessible.
3. Have a design vision
The design vision is the direction where the team sees the design heading. It is formed by principles, values, and even the “blue sky” concept for the business, aligned with the company’s mission and goals.
4. Promote a design culture
The design culture is the understanding that everything should revolve around making users successful, being curious about them and their needs and bringing diverse perspectives together in order to innovate.
Once this is set I can only advise you to simply and literally follow the four action points that the McKinsey report suggests:
- At the top of the organisation, adopt an analytical approach to design by measuring and leading your company’s performance in this area with the same rigour the company devotes to revenues and costs, but pay attention that goals don’t apply in the same way to design as they apply to sales
- Put the user and his experience at the front and in the centre of the company culture by softening internal boundaries between services, encouraging collaboration and team work.
- Nurture your top design people and empower them in cross-functional teams that take collective accountability for improving the user experience while retaining the functional connections of their members.
- Iterate, test, and learn rapidly, incorporating user insights from the first idea until long after the final launch.
As a conclusion the one thing I would like you to take away from this article is the idea that in order to truly succeed, we all need to work together as a team, to build better users, to improve, upgrade or simply make a difference in their lives. And when we have achieved that, when business, marketing, sales, finance, customer relations, design, product and development align and work towards the same goal, just like John Maeda says, then and only then everyone wins—together.
This article was originally published on muzli.li. Click here to read the original article.