I have always had the belief that design was a utopian endeavor to be undertaken by the smartest people in the world to solve problems. That designers were by nature helping the world evolve toward better, more beautiful, more sustainable, and more useful artifacts and services. I believe in my soul that this is true, but I also know it’s not enough.
What also needs to happen is this: business leaders need to see how designers can be innovators for them. Designers can make businesses more efficient, make products more usable, help speed communications, minimize damage to the environment, foresee the need for innovation, and be the catalyst for it.
When you think about companies such as Apple you can’t help but see the contribution that design has made to their market value. The problem is that many companies can’t see how design will affect them. I’m not sure if this is because they fear innovation or just misunderstand what design is.
Design is not:
1. Only a noun. It’s also a verb. It’s a process and a way of thinking. It’s the act of recognizing a problem, researching to find the causes, conceptualizing solutions, communicating to create awareness of these solutions, and directing their implementation.
2. Just pretty pictures or fancy words or shiny materials. In short, it’s not the end product, it is the means to get to the end. (Design can lead to end products as varied as the companies they are made for. They could be pretty pictures or shiny new materials but they could just as easily be a new business plan, a product launch strategy, a client communication tool, or an information display.)
3. Necessarily the answer to all your problems. Many companies hire designers to help innovate but then fall short on manufacturing, shipping, delivery, customer service, and a host of other requirements of a successful business. They look at design as a way to best the competition but then forget about the most important factors in the process: consumer desire, consumer need, and consumer satisfaction.
1. A strategic imperative. As more and more businesses see the value of a design-centered approach to problem solving and innovation, they will realize they need to do the same to stay competitive. Design can’t be an afterthought; it needs to be an integral part of the company.
2. A way to create true innovation. The research and development inherent in the design process are really the only ways to mitigate risk in the search for the new. There have been examples of success by accident, but these are rare and often short-lived. Success, in other words, is also something that can be designed.
3. A process to create greater efficiency in an organization. Sometimes making your products or services better is not the issue. The challenge lies in making them with greater profit baked into the process. Designers can look at an organization’s processes and design them to be more efficient, thus reducing overall costs.
4. A method for communicating. Like language, design is a way to communicate. Designers have the ability to streamline communications so that the impact of the messages is clear and concise.