May 09

Is design simply a process for managing risk?

Last night I attended Designology, a well run panel by brand consultancy Landor. For most of the conversation, I was nodding my head in agreement: “design is a process”, “the design process needs to be collaborative and involve stakeholders”, “your solutions are only as good as the questions you ask”, “good ideas come from everywhere”, “we don’t all have the vision of Steve Jobs so we need a process” and so on. There wasn’t much disagreement from panelists, so I posed a positioning for design that I believe to be mostly true, but expected to be a little provocative.

Good ideas can come from everywhere – from research, from software engineers, from people on the street. In the software industry we can build these ideas and learn by watching most of them fail. The cost of failure is often low. Other industries don’t have that luxury. They need to get it right the first or second time. Out of all the ideas floating around, how do we know which one will be successful? How can we lower our risk of failure? I believe much of the design process is about managing that risk. Facilitating the decision making process to ensure that data is driving decision making, that “pet” ideas aren’t over valued, that everyone remains objective throughout the development process, that what makes it to market is not only successful for the business, but is also valuable, desirable and enjoyable to customers.

One counter point from the panel was that ‘designer as risk manager’ was a sad place to be, that we should be contributing to culture. Looking at the broader picture in society. I disagree. I think it’s a good place to be. If the things we put out in the world are desirable to consumers, and enjoyable for the people that use them, we are making a positive contribution to culture. One design team can’t manage shifts in culture or society, it’s organic.

I’m a risk manager, and at the moment, I’m comfortable with that.

Nov 08

Outside In Thinking

The way we do business is broken. We do business from the inside out, but it should be the other around. Our internal business silos make for terrible customer experiences.

What good is a great website if your in-store staff are rude?

What good is a great online purchasing tool if people don’t understand what you sell?

Customer experiences matter most because quality goods and customer satisfaction are commoditised. In the early 21st century, customer loyalty is increasingly necessary to be competitive. And the best way to drive loyalty is to create consistently compelling and authentic experiences. To design these experiences, we need a new skill set, a new way of understanding people. A new way of understanding customers. We need to understand how people think, and what motivates them to behave in certain ways. The best way to do this is to design from the outside in. To observe people in their own environment, probing them so that we understand their behaviour. This understanding enables us to design things that are meaningful and valuable to people. So stop designing products and features, and start designing experiences.

Presentation on \’Outside In Thinking\’ at the iQ Bootcamp 2008