There have been some extremely deep and thoughtful conversations lately in the comments section of my recent posts – Design thinker’s dilemma, Strategy and Operational effectiveness and Poking a hole in the matrix. They’ve brought home to me that one key area where there seems to be a fog – this is not a value judgement but an observation – both within and without the design industry with respect to the applications of various kinds of design services within the context of a particular business. I’m still floundering for the right words here but am making this attempt to articulate the whole in the hope that it leads to further conversations and clarity.
We have designers, stylists, design researchers, strategists, inventors, engineers in the mix. Can we in fact articulate clearly what each does, in the course of the design process, at any reasonably large design consultancy? Are they separate specialist job functions or are they phases in the design process? Or are they the equivalent of ‘tags’ in helping create a project team for a particular project? In small firms, where everyone wears multiple hats, these differentiations do not arise, but at the same time, depending on the balance of skillsets the firm may lean towards some particular area of excellence over others.
I’d love to start with mapping these out AS they are ‘commonly’ understood today FIRST before we get any deeper in our conversations discussing them in the context of what they should be ideally. Why? Because I realized that while it looks as though niblettes, Dirk and myself are talking about the same ‘tags’ viz., design, styling, research, invention, and strategy – I quickly saw that our perception of what those ‘tags’ mean to each of us differs. Now niblettes and I have at least been fighting a war of words for some time now so we could be said to have reached some level of comprehension of where the other comes from (steeler kingdom 🙂 but when Dirk entered the conversation I found myself floundering to comprehend some of the things he was saying – this is not a negative judgement in any way, I’ve talked to him and collaborated with him on stuff before – but it pointed out to me just how confusing all of this can be without clear articulations of the various terms and their corresponding definitions in the context of this discussion. Imagine what it must be like for those who are not working in the industry i.e. clients and their various representatives when they try to make sense of design firm websites, design firm processes and portfolios.
This brings me to my main contention, that while the news media and Davos et al have done wonders to bring design’s value to business to the forefront of the public’s imagination, it is still incumbent upon the providers of the service to communicate their value to their customers. Why design? is a question that has been answered in the broad strokes, but the details are still fuzzy. And without this clarity of communication we cannot hope to provide basic services to those who are yet new to the entire concept – the first time user of design services, say, one whose imagination has been sparked by the myriad stories about how design increased sales for company X or opened a new market for company Y.
Next, I’ll throw out standard explanations derived from a quick look through the major design firm websites to see where we all agree and differ for further conversation.