Strategy vs. Management?

Are the means and interests of design strategy and business management inherently at odds with each other? If so, then why do they need each other so much? As in most of life this far from the sun: paradoc reigns. Let’s look at the vinegar and oil relationship between practices of design strategy and business, and see if we can make a little dressing from it.

Almost as soon as I’d first landed a gig in a web group at a multinational corportation, in 1999, the notion dawned on me that the way webs and corporations are organized puts them in nearly diametrical opposition. It may not need be.

The former (webs) are democratic, inverted pyramid (mob control). The latter (corp’s) are hierarchical, top-down pyramids (individual control). Yet together they (we) have done some great and interesting things to liberate, and greatly speed, information and interactive utility access, for all with the means. Is this an antagonistic relationship, symbiotic… both?

While we’re at it we should recongize that, with exceptions, the best webs are generated by a certain size organization: not too big, not too small. Seldom do large multinationals produce good, never mind great, hypertext webs or web applications. Why is it that, as Paul Saffo says, “innovation gets killed by good management”?

One reason for the apparent conflict between strategic web design (is there any other kind?) and business management is that business people and design people think differently. Each discipline accords mutual reinforcement of personality and training. So that business people, like engineers, tend to reason in deductively. While designers tend to reason inductively. Designers are, usually (and best, I think) information collectors and integrators. This view, which I’ve long held, was recently reiterated and confirmed by Brandon Schauer, while attending Adaptive Path’s UX Intensive seminars. Business skills tend to be more linear, cartesian, concrete, and “realistic.” Which is better? Neither, and both. Society may be generally biased towards one or the other, but for my part, I believe each has it’s necessity.

If all this is so, isn’t the only missing element real collaboration? Certainly designers and engineers have learned to get along better in the world of web applicaitons. But are we “there” yet? How can we further mature processes to facilitate, and courage, even demand collaboration between business management, design, and technology. Best, I think, is for each to make time to learn more about each other, which comes easier for some than others. Some like their camps and have become entrenched. But the question remains after the knowledge of our contextual conflict: What can/should we do to better get along, thus thrive?

About Michael Cummings 31 Articles
Michael Cummings has been planning, designing, and producing interactive systems since 1995.
Contact: Website

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