O Danny Blog Entries  

Mind Your Own Design Business

Business and design. Design and business. It seems you can't open up a business or design magazine these days without seeing the pairing of these words somewhere. Whole companies are starting up around it. We get presentations where designers are "emotional and non-linear" and business people are "rational and linear." We hear the buzzwords "Design Thinking" bandied about without any definition of what that really is. Design is the new savior of business, and business people need to think more like designers. Business is from Mars, Design is from Venus.

Stop. Just stop.

Look, I'm happy that design is getting a lot of press in magazines other than I.D. I'm glad business people (who are these generic folks in their suits?) are understanding what design can do for them and their business. But I think there's a fundamental disconnect going on, and it's not between design and business: it's between perception and reality.

Talking about design and business as two separate entities sets up a false dichotomy where there is actually none. Design has always been about business, and business has always been about design. Perhaps not good design or good business, but they've always been intertwined. Incessantly breaking them apart for the purpose of selling magazines or services does a disservice to both. I'll say it again: design is business and business is design.

Yes, they are distinct subject areas with distinct points of view. Yes, the people who are in them have some different skills. Yes, one person might wear a tie, the other funny eyeglasses. And yes, you can see how quickly this argument dissolves into stereotypes.

Ever since it became a profession (which I'd say happened in the 1930s with industrial designers like Raymond Loewy), design has been linked to companies. Industrial means "a product of industry" after all. Designers don't work for themselves; we're not artists; we design things for people, for companies, for use (often by or in companies). In all but a handful of cases, designers aren't the ones doing the final making, the production of their designs. Other people (read: other companies) do that; most of the time, we just do the prototypes. We need the collective resources that usually only companies can provide to make our designs realities.

Designers work with, and often in, companies. Without companies and thus business, we'd be a sorry lot. There's so much talk about what designers can do for business, we forget what businesses does for us, namely give us money, jobs, and projects. It borders on arrogance for us to be seen as the saviors of business when it is so often business saving us. In the marketplace, we rescue each other.

But Dan, I hear you saying, what about the users? Surely design is about them? Business is about filthy lucre, while design is about people! We serve users, while businesses look after the almighty dollar. Right. Businesses hate the people who use and buy their products and services and all designers work for free.

I'm not saying that businesses are something honorable and admirable; sometimes they are, but sometimes they are horribly not. What I am saying is that businesses are what they are: products that are created, staffed, and, yes, designed by humans. And because they are, they are flawed, some more than others. I've yet to work at or for the perfect company, and I'm sure I never will. The things businesses have to do and endure are far too complex for anyone to ever design a perfect company. And frankly, I'm not sure you'd want to. Things that are perfect are no longer human.

Make no mistake: businesses are designed, and not usually by designers. Indeed, 99.99 percent of all design isn't done by designers. It's a human activity--perhaps the human activity. (See, more design arrogance!) Businesses just don't spring into being: they are created by people in order to accomplish goals they otherwise couldn't. They are designed products.

The long and short of it is that business and design together solve problems (and in the process make money). We can apply design thinking with a trough and fill up rooms with our prototypes, but until someone says, "Yeah, go do that," designers are a powerless lot, actors without a play. Some of the artificial cleaving of design and business is the design community's response to this powerlessness, of wanting "a place at the table," not realizing that the table itself was designed. You can go design your own table, you know. You might discover you might not like the big table after all. Designers have become like my four-year-old, throwing a fit because she's not an adult yet, not realizing that being an adult is damn hard too.

So enough with the business and design jibberjabber. Let's just get down to business already, the business of design.

Originally posted at Friday, July 29, 2005 | Comments (0) | Trackback (0)

Previous Entry
Come Back, Raymond Loewy: All is Forgiven
Reading Raymond Loewy's 1951 book Never Leave Well Enough Alone as a 21st century designer is a little like looking into a warped funhouse mirror. So many of the issues and problems he tackles during his career echo the same ones we face right now with our digital devices. ...

Recent Entries
New Book: Designing Gestural Interfaces

An Interaction Designer's Thanksgiving

Missing Britpop

Presentation: Gaming the Web: Using the Structure of Games to Design Better Web Apps

Connecting07: Rethinking Product Design: Why We Can't Wait

Connecting07: Medical Device Design: 10 Things You Need to Know

Connecting07: Brand, Design, and the Brain

An Open Letter to the Producers of the new Bionic Woman

Review: The Reflective Practitioner (Part IV)

Presentations on Slideshare

November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005
May 2005
April 2005
March 2005
February 2005
January 2005
December 2004
November 2004
October 2004
September 2004
August 2004
July 2004
June 2004
May 2004
April 2004
March 2004
February 2004
January 2004
December 2003
November 2003
October 2003
September 2003
August 2003
July 2003
June 2003
May 2003
April 2003
March 2003
February 2003
January 2003
December 2002
November 2002
October 2002
September 2002
August 2002
  O Danny Boy is About Me, Dan Saffer, and has my Portfolio, Resumé, Blog, and some Extras. It also has the blog I kept of my graduate studies and ways to Contact Me.  
  Blog RSS Feeds
Blog Excerpts
Full Entries
Design Entries Only
Atom Feed