Monday, October 08, 2007

Not Getting Ahead Of Ourselves

Recently on the excellent bplusd blog, Jess interviews Brandon Schauer of Adaptive Path about designers' desire to contribute to the strategic discussion with business folks.

I really like this statement, as it reflects a trend that I'm seeing (and may be guilty of myself):
I think it gets reinforced by some people in the design community who make the leap from the fact that "I identify as a designer, and therefore I am a design thinker, and I can make these great strategic contributions if they’d only let me."

There’s this note of almost entitlement that has crept into the design community. That’s something I’m particularly cautious about because I think that most designers aren’t design thinkers yet because they don’t have the concrete fluency with business, and many visual designers don’t face the same constraints on actual usage that an interaction designer or industrial designer face.

As designers, we get used to exploring possibilities and finding creative solutions, but we don't necessarily ever pay the price or see the real impact of what we create.

I'm troubled by that note of entitlement, particularly from people who have added business vocabulary to their repertoire, expecting that to be enough. It's not enough. We must also take the time to truly understand what it means to make business decisions and deal every single day with the repercussions.*

There is a reason that most business conversations include a healthy dose of reality checking, namely that in business, you make a decision, see how it worked, and make another. Designers can help widen the considered field of these decisions, but we must also be willing to see the constraints and know where to push the envelope.

In some ways, the relationship between design and business is the same as that between design and technology. Design creates something; technology builds it.

These relationships work far better when there is some involvement of the builders during design (and vice versa) along with feedback once the building is complete and the result out in the ether.
This conversation is why you often hear about "accountability" in post-mortems on software projects. (In fact, I should probably label that arrow as such. Let's imagine it for a moment.)

So back to business and design. How do they relate to the design/build discussion? Well, instead of just being told what to design:

Designers want input into the possible solutions to a problem.

We need to learn to talk to each other better to make this work.

At the IIT Strategy Conference (link from bplusd), Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management in Toronto, gave a great talk about the approaches based on validity (design) versus reliability (business). He covers both what both designers and businesspeople can do to smooth communication and, therefore, benefit from a better working relationship.

Schauer illustrates just how that might work with this anecdote from a recent project:
We helped identify key metrics that people actually cared about that the web and the interactive marketing group could actually impact, and how can we calculate the impact that a potential project could have on those numbers. Suddenly, they are having this financial dialog, when before they were just talking about personas or user flows and things like that. So that really changed their relationship with the rest of the organization by being able to think through and articulate things in a way that was valued.
Don't you want to have that same relationship with your colleagues, regardless of your perspective? We would all benefit from it.

Check out the full interview, which includes many ways designers can get smarter about business.


Grey said...

Thought you might like to know that you've been featured in today's twitterku:

Chris said...

Thanks grey!

Sunil Shinde said...

Nice blog. I run a very similar blog focussed on user experience. Let me know what you think.

Chris said...

Go get 'em, Sunil. :)