Designers, realise your potential!by Nathanael Boehm on 28/04/2012
Or, leap-frogging the maze of business as usual through design.
Most people equate ‘design’ with graphic or visual design and will think of design in terms of making business cards, brochures and websites.
But I want you to think of your role as more than just eye candy and more than just colouring in boxes at the very end of a production line. I want you to think of your role as even more than effective and persuasive communication.
It doesn’t matter what you specialise in – whether print designer, web designer, illustrator or user experience designer – you have a unique set of skills and a perspective on the world. In a time where our planet faces some significant challenges socially, economically and environmentally we need people to come up with innovative ideas.
As an artist, you are in the perfect position to be coming up with the ideas that no one else has thought of. Analysts will run the numbers, CEOs will follow 1960′s strategic business formulas and managers will put one foot in front of the other … but you, you designers, can give more.
I’m not asking or expecting you to solve global poverty or climate change. I’m not even suggesting that you go and work in a not-for-profit organisation for social good. I just want to you see that there is more you can be doing in your current job to be more valuable to your employer and customers.
A common situation I come across when working with other designers is that you’ve allowed yourselves to be pushed down by the business and squashed into a corner. You get handed a piece of work, you do that piece of work, and that’s it. You don’t have any say in what work gets done or how it gets done. There is a common misconception that being a designer means you don’t know how to run a business or have any clue about strategic thinking.
That’s absurd, and I want you to influence how people think of designers because we have so much more to give.
I’m not aggrandising design here. There is a growing conversation that is pointing out we need more designers and need to start using them better. We need to adopt the way designers think and explore problems and stop working so methodically and predictably because we are facing issues of increasing complexity.
So what is it that design thinking and designers have to offer?
We all work differently, but a common theme across design is a process of exploration, divergent thinking, concept design, evaluation and refinement. Designers know their first idea probably isn’t their best, and they’re good at rapidly coming up with a range of ideas expressing them visually to examine critically and share with others.
Designers think about people and try to understand how the things we produce will work out in the real world. We fuse artistic expression with research and evidence-based decision making. Designers don’t automatically resort to the cheapest and quickest option because we aim higher understand the important of sustaining and building a brand over the long term.
For those of us who haven’t yet been completely beaten into churn ‘n burn: We strive to make beautiful things that make people feel good, things they love to use or own rather than frustrating or ripped off.
Your organisations can benefit from thinking like a designer, from the CEO down. Show them the way, lead by example, demonstrate the benefit and promote design thinking. Use your visual talent to support discussions with diagrams and illustrations that help people think about problems differently.
Start by changing the questions you ask. Instead of asking how your boss wants something done, ask why. Challenge assumptions, be confident you’re solving the right problems, consider the ethics of your work and consider the bigger picture. You might upset a few people along the way but you will be more valuable, more influential and be more satisfied with the work you do and the products your employer sells.
If you are interested in how design thinking can be applied more generally to business strategy and product management and what you can do to make yourself more valuable then here are some books I suggest you read:
- Change by Design by Tim Brown
- Design Thinking by Thomas Lockwood
- Designing for People by Henry Dreyfuss
- Gamestorming by Dave Gray
- Glimmer by Warren Berger
- Linchpin by Seth Godin
- Resonate by Nancy Duarte
- Sketching User Experiences by Bill Buxton
- The Back of the Napkin by Dan Roam
- The Strategic Designer by David Holston
- The Strategy Book by Max McKeown
- The Wide Lens by Rod Adner
- Thinkertoys by Michael Michalko
- Thoughts on Interaction Design by Jon Kolko