Design Means Business II

Got Design?

Collaboration: Trust or Control?

In the first Design Means Business installment, we addressed basic notions of collaboration and conflict resolution, because communications/software seldom manages and transmits information better than its producing team can.

A team’s ability to communicate, collaborate, and co-operate is one of the most significant determinants of end-user experience. Allegorically, band members don’t always love each other, but to make enjoyable music they have to play well together, and the same song (sheet music helps). Same for any such collaborative endeavor, and few are more dependent on collaboration for success than software services.

Team leadership sets the tone and tenor of a project. Team/company culture affects results (user experience). Top leadership in software development is seldom versed or grounded in communications, humanities, or experience design (human factors) disciplines. I expect this to change as the journey from the industrial age to the information age passes a tipping point. Strategic service design agency engagement can help old management styles learn new tricks, and serve as an important (and lucrative) stop gap, until the tipping point is passed.

One difference between industrial age management and information age management: for the former, the focus is primarily on operations, for the later, it is on human comprehension, receptivity, and response (experience). And yes, even at blue chip companies. Meanwhile, industrial age assumptions largely hold sway over knowledge workers providing information services. And it shows.

Though business and engineering roles still often lead efforts to achieve UX goals, knowledge of design and experience (human factors) are not yet counted among their training or career advancement criteria. If you’re not well versed in the language and disciplines of user experience design, a baseline understanding will support you in UX goal achievement.

Design, Designate, or Decide?

Words refer either to things or ideas, and design is an idea. We can’t point to it and instantly agree that the word (symbol) refers to some material thing in the world. Epistemologically, it is more like “equality” than “Bali.”

Confusion comes also from using design as either a noun or a verb. And the wide range of usages, both nouns and verbs, doesn’t help at all. So let’s start by simply acknowledging confusion about what design means, and then clarify it.

First; dictionary definitions. Notice that design, by definition, has nothing to do with style. It is first to do with planning, and then the communication of plans. Of its noun and verb synonyms, only “plan” spans both tenses. Of course, plans are devised according to design’s sibling-synonyms, “purpose” and “intent.” So design is, by definition, more akin to management and strategy than the communications (documentation) which convey said plans.

Purpose, use, and design are inextricably linked. This is what distinguishes design from art. Yes, art serves a purpose too. This difference is, art’s purpose is exclusively symbolic. The first works of art were expressions of “symbolic intent.” This hasn’t changed. Design’s purposes, on the other hand, are definitively utilitarian. This is the essential distinction, and it will serve us to use it and outgrow any confusion between art and design.

The etymology of design comes to English via French from designare (The Norman French shortly ruled England.) It shares this root of designate. A synonym of designate is “assign.” Some definitions include “appoint.” In sum, to design is to to specify.

So, though most people confuse design work with its material artifacts, it does not exist as a separate activity from planning and strategic decision making. Schematic documentation, i.e. information architecture, use cases, diagrams for user flow and interaction design, information design, layout wireframes and the like are, simply, a secondary matter of course to communicate (document) how a strategic solution will work.

“The role of the designer is to manage this complexity.”
Defining The Designer of 2015

If you’re a involved in a project in a business management capacity, and you’ve had the feeling that the designer on your team is trying to make product or service decisions and affect its strategic direction, you’re right. But if you understand the purposes of design, you can see that one can not be a designer without making or, at the very least, striving to influence such decisions. To assume otherwise is to assume the designer should abdicate their role, and not serve the function for which they are educated, experienced, and hired. And if you haven’t yet felt this way be prepared to in the very near future.

In sum, the designers role is to plan and designate (including name, label, and title tasks, actions, and objects), and then document product or service schema. Given the designer’s role as one defining “how they would like something to be built or made,” is it any wonder there can be overlap between the designer’s role and that of business or management?

The best way to settle such conflicts, conflict resolution strategies aside, is to measure a designs achievements (intended or not). As the saying goes, “if you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” Usability and user experience metrics, not to be confused with sales or customer satisfaction metrics, are no exception. For a design to achieve any measure of success, success metrics must be defined before the design is. If not, or if metrics shift and the design is not revised and tracked accordingly, disappointment, if not complete failure, is “baked in.”

Get It?

Now that we’ve “got” design: let’s investigate how roles, processes, and organizational structure affect user and customer experience goals in the next installment of Design Means Business III. »

About uxdesign.com 6 Articles
Michael Cummings has been planning, designing, and producing interactive systems since 1995.
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