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Design as business culture

Published 4 years ago · 3 mins read

3 mins read

Today, even more skeptical IT companies are finally grasping the importance of design as an important element for their business.

However, most of these firms miss the opportunity to make design a core element for their business.

Design usually comes after, or in parallel, to product Concept and Engineering. What happens is that designers adapt to an already delineated project, instead of having them crafting the product from the very beginning. If you want to be a great product company, this makes a huge difference.

As I wrote in a previous post, as technology levels up, competition on technical specs and features becomes increasingly irrelevant for users: the result is that design gets the main stage. Then, designers should get the main stage too. From the book Keep it Simple by Hartmut Esslinger (founder of frog design and longtime collaborator of Apple), we read:

[…]  bottom-up design never succeeds, because even good efforts by departments within such systems remain insulated within the layers of the company’s organizational structure and everything really new, courageous and potentially game-changing is destroyed by its passage through ‘the gates of rejection.

Hessingler stress the point that, if you want to make insanely great products, designers have to be in charge. This implies two things:

  • The company structure should reflect that, having designers not reporting to engineering departments but rather directly to management
  • Design has to be a priority in the company: executives should have sensibility on the subject and should be deeply concerned about it, as much as they are for the technology and marketing aspects of business. They should understand its value and promote it through the company culture

Basically, this means changing how we think.

A mentality shift

Changing the way IT companies think is no easy job: but, if done, gives great results. More mature industries, such as automotive or furniture show already the needed levels of respect for the design discipline. In IT however, even if nobody denies anymore the importance of usability and good visual design (and even old pachydermic companies have UX professionals in their staff) very few sees it as a crucial aspect of the product roadmap.

In a small post published on Medium, Mike Monteiro uses an analogy with the furniture industry. In his story we have 2 designers: one is involved in the whole process of creating a new chair and he applies a user-centric approach driving the product as a whole, and another is just involved at the end and everything he can do to fix an ugly product is to add a nice (but sad) cushion onto it. Results are pretty different indeed.

Too often, design is seen as something that can be done onto something that  have been already decided by other actors that occupy more prominent positions. This leads to poor products, not because engineers or product managers don’t do a good job, but because they simply lack the competency needed to do proper design with users as the central element. In the end, nobody ask designers to implement high-performing algorithms or engineers to provide market studies, isn’t it?

On the other hand, designers need to step up, evolving from being constricted in the visual design field towards a more cross-functional competence. Industrial designers, for example, know pretty well the manufacturing techniques used to build what they’re designing. Why UX Designers should not care about the technological, functional or business aspects of the project they’re working on?

To summarize, design has to be prioritized by managers and designers should work side by side with engineers and product managers from the very beginning to guide the product into the right direction, to act as design facilitators. Design is problem solving and good ideas can come from anybody (countless times I saw great design ideas proposed by engineers or product managers) but it’s the work of the designer to organize, filter and put them in practice, with an eye always on the user and his needs.

Because, no matter what, at each step of the project design simply happens. It’s then up to you to decide to not let it happen by chance.

 

I published this article on medium.com as well. Check it out there and enjoy the wonderful reading experience.