Leading by Design

Our office has been abuzz lately with talk about service design. Everyone fancies design and being design-led, but how do you actually create a design-led organisation? The crew over at Optimal Usability (our parent company) have done some thinking and have a few suggestions:

1. Allow space for exploration and risk taking

A good design process isn't very predictable or safe. It's messy, difficult to explain and sell, and its results are not certain from the beginning. If you want to be design-led, you must be open to exploration. This means that financial planning for innovative activities should only consist of setting goals and spending limits. Goals define the breakthroughs you desire and spending limits reflect your current commercial reality.

2. Create a project-centred organisation

Great teams often have a clear goal with a serious deadline. Teams need to be dynamic with an understanding that roles can change. Project-centred organisations allow people more freedom. Freedom is essential in a design-led organisation (see point 1).

3. Lead from the front

It's hard to be design-led when the boss doesn't care. There is no substitute for senior management actively promoting the power of design and ensuring that innovative, design-led projects are properly funded. If you are serious about being design-led then it takes real money.

4. Be research-led.

To be a design-led organisation, you need deep empathy with your customers. You will need to spend time with them and be a "first-class noticer". You have to ask consumer-oriented questions. When you have taken the time to truly understand your customers, it becomes easier to trust your gut.

5. Don't centralise the design function.

"Designers hold on to their craft as if only people with magic skills can do it. They need to let non-traditional designers into the effort, give them a role, empower them." Adam Werbach, chief executive of Saatchi & Saatchi

Proctor & Gamble's transformation into a design-led organisation happened precisely because they made design everyone's job, rather than centralising the design function. Today's designers need to rely more and more on collaborative methods to co-create, particularly as our world becomes increasingly connected and complex. Just because you can't work Photoshop doesn't mean you don't have a role to play in designing.

Published on May 07, 2010
  • Sam Ng
  • Sam Ng is one of Optimal Workshop's founders.

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