by David Burney
First, a confession. I’m a designer. Nature, nurture, education, and training. Design is my profession, and it has been for nearly 30 years.
Today, everyone seems to be talking about design. Countless books, magazines, and conferences promote “design” and “design thinking” as key components that businesses and entire economic regions can use to drive innovation, create value, and deliver a competitive advantage. Significant research has been published claiming proof of the value of design. Other universities and business schools are following the lead of Stanford and Carnegie Mellon, creating new design programs and curriculums aimed at the intersection of design and business. Business management guru Tom Peters says, “design is it.” Mainstream business magazines have devoted entire sections to innovation and design that detail global advances in strategy and creativity in organizations worldwide. Clearly, design is quickly gaining respect in the business world.
It wasn’t always so. Just a few years after graduating from design school, I found myself working in a small, struggling ad firm. One day when our account person was delivering an invoice to one of our small clients, she was challenged with, “What’s this line item for design? And why am I paying for that?” My friend answered, “Well, that’s for designing the ad. We have to pay the designer.” The client answered, “Give me a pencil, a ruler, and a cup of coffee, and I’m a designer.”
The phrase stuck with me. And I found over the next two decades many, many examples of business leaders expressing–if not so simply and powerfully–the same attitude. Thus my lifelong quest to answer the question: “What’s the dang deal? Why can’t business leaders see the value of design? And perhaps more importantly, why can’t designers articulate that value better?” Even now, in the face of significant research offering proof. And the recent success of design-driven companies like Target. Apple, IKEA, Google. Procter & Gamble.
Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, claims that designers and business leaders think in different languages. Business leaders speak the language of reliability. They want to know, “Will this idea work?” They seek known answers before they choose and implement. They look to exploit “known” opportunities.
Design thinkers speak the language of viability. “What’s the real problem we’re trying to solve?” They look to explore new opportunities.
Dialogue between the participants can be frustrating when both sides are questioning the meaningfulness of the interaction.
Neither, of course, is inherently wrong. But, in the future, any company that intends to compete must find more harmonious ways to utilize both sides of their brain.
What I’m reading: Hop On Pop (every night; 10 times a night; for several weeks–my 5-year-old daughter, Anniebette, loves it)
Last movie I saw: Dr. Zhivago (on cable)– and they say I’m no longer a romantic. Laura…
What I’m listening to: I’m listening to a lot of stuff… what I’m humming is “Nothing but the Wheel” off Peter Wolf’s “Sleepless” album and “Big River” by, who else, Johnny Cash.