Better Than New

Making Design Less Dirty by morepete
May 18, 2007, 5:19 pm
Filed under: Design Tensions

Dirty Design Chair

By Pete Mortensen

On BusinessWeek’s Next blog, Helen Walters poses a provocative question from Head Rotman-Man Roger Martin: “Is Design Dirty?” In other words, do designers freak business people out?

To be blunt, yeah. Because they don’t understand what we do, and far too often, we don’t get them either.

Right now, the burden of proof is on designers to prove to business that they aren’t the biggest flakes in the world. Granted, that’s a really difficult case to make, because as Roger points out, some things that really matter to designers are absolutely irrelevant and touchy-feely to business types.

So what should designers do about this burden of proof? Well, they should go right after it. The only reason designers are in a position to even get told by MBAs that they need to dress more professionally is because designers have pushed for decades to gain more influential roles. This doesn’t have to look like conformity — it can look like being shockingly competent at the most unexpected times.

Designers wished for a seat at the strategic and development table for years, and we’re here now. But now we actually have to do something with that opportunity. We could approach that challenge from a number of different directions. The one I favor most is to position design as a facilitator of conversations between critical stakeholders in a multi-disciplinary development program.

As much as we worry that engineers, marketers, supply chain-ers, six-sigma ninjas and executives don’t get us, these people often have trouble communicating with each other, too.

As designers, we need to be genuinely interested in people to create products and services that really connect with ordinary folks. We can carry that genuine interest in people over to our own organizations and work to understand what’s keeping all these folks with competing interests up at night. If we build those bridges and stay at the center of a consensus-building campaign, we become someone who “gets it.”

That’s our biggest problem right now: We face a million MBAs in charge of billion-dollar budgets who have no evidence that anyone else understands their plight, and we haven’t had great tools to make our cases and to look smart in a way that matters to these people at the top.

I’m not saying this is the only way to make headway, but it’s definitely an easy step in the right direction. If we do as Dale Carnegie advises in “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” we’ll, well, win friends and influence people.

(Image from Project Me)


1 Comment so far
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The problem isn’t the designer’s inability to market himself. It’s the fact that he lets people call him a designer to begin with.

There’s already a word for “multi-disciplinary development program” interlocutors. They’re called project managers.

The moment the designer leaves the studio, he wears different hats. It’s not that he’s not wearing these hats. It’s that he’s forgetting to change the title on his name tag.

Comment by tim

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