Pouring oil on an already hot debate of design

August 29, 2008 at 2:58 pm 1 comment

Within the design community, there is a huge debate going on about: design; design thinking; how strategy affects design; having designers at the strategy table; and design as central force behind product innovation these days.

Says Kate Rutter (Adaptive Path):

I hear folks say that design thinking is different from other kind of thinking, and that by infusing design thinking into the strategy of an organization, the business will be more innovative. The perception here is that designers are the hero best suited to use design thinking to pull the innovation sword from the strategy stone. In fact, the more I read about it, the more there is to read about it. Conversation in the blogdom is aswirl with the trifecta of seat at the table + design thinking + innovation.

I’ve read up on the debate a bit, and my feeling is that, as usual, with this type of philosophical discussion, much of the back-and-forth can be attributed to the lack of common vocabulary due to a lack of shared experiences. The debate is a manifestation of the process of establishing a new common understanding on design, as people from different disciplines come together to define the meaning and role of design.

One reason I say this because when I read the different opinions without my specific background in mind, I can truly say: “hey all of these guys are right, so what are they actually arguing about? Should be easy to be on the same page when you look at the end result of great strategy and design”

The second reason I say this: as many people point out these days, the lines of roles & responsibilities as well as the amount of varying approaches to communication, product design, technology are getting more and more blurry. Ad agencies, design agencies, digital agencies, even PR agencies are all, in their specific ways, talking and doing something about design. Why are they all doing something? Because everyone by now has realized that in a market full of messages, it is the experiences that people remember and that tie them to products and brands. And, yeah, that innovation comes from thinking about human behavior and designing solutions that improve peoples lives (real or perceived).

The third reason I say this is: if as Kate says that designers are best when they make things, why do they theorize on the evolution of design theory?

While I think it is important to join the debate, or while it might even be fun to discuss, I don’t understand the somewhat acrimonious, petty and sticklerish tone in the discussion. To be clear, I am not one to think things have to be harmonious, rather the opposite. But what I would warn about is being too dogmatic about what design is, what designers are best at, or if design thinking is better than analytical thinking or what the seating arrangements should be in boardrooms where folks discuss “innovation.” Because if you do that, a Software Developer turned User Experience Designer turned Creative Director turned Head of Strategic Planning like me can butt in and say weird stuff like:

“Guys, who cares about disciplines and terminology battles or having a seat at the table? It’s all too human to care most about where you come from. But when everything grows together, it helps to forget analytical thinking vs design thinking. Accept the fact that it takes all kinds of differently thinking people. And don’t tell me designers don’t think or planners aren’t creative! If that is the case, you probably have designers who aren’t curious enough and planners who aren’t creative enough, or you are the problem. So, the upshot is: no matter if you consider yourself a strategist or designer of experiences, steal with pride from and partner with all disciplines, as long as you start and end with human behavior as the core driver of what you do. Also, try to stop worrying about who is doing what and in what type of agency or shop. Get rid of those hierarchical ramifications of seperating ‘strategy’ and ‘design’ or ‘what’ and ‘how’. I, for one, cannot always seperate if what an Experience Planner does is already design or if what a designer does sometimes is a strategy.”

Both strategists and designers are best at their jobs when they think and make something. There is no exclusivity on that stuff, just different expert accountabilities.

This, to me is how to come up with marketing or product innovation, and oh, and btw, if you do that, you’ll have any seat at any table.

Join the discussion:








Entry filed under: design, Experience, humankind, Insights & Strategy, opinion, technology. Tags: , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. monroe  |  September 6, 2008 at 7:50 pm

    your upshot is accurate and well placed. last fed-ex.


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