Over my decade of design experience, I have done brand, identity, visual, user experience, product, and service design. As my career has grown towards design leadership, I have had to do some deep reflection on my identity as a designer, and what I bring to the table as a leader grounded in design. I've asked myself, "How do I hold onto design principles and ethos? What is the heart of design that I carry with me as a leader?"
For me, at the heart of design is a philosophy, an ethos, a modus operandi that can transform organizations and the world. It is a set of core beliefs that ground and guide me in my work, and a mindset that opens up possibilities.
By placing people first in our process, we force ourselves to admit and let go of our assumptions, and focus on the needs of others. This dedication to the human element is at the core of design as a practice. It challenges us to do our research, to listen, to seek understanding, and to empathize with others. It also challenges us to become advocates for the people using our products and services, as well as for the people that make them. This dedication to creating useful and enjoyable experiences is a grounding rod for me in my work.
I'm a big fan of designing structured workshop activities to guide conversations and gather input. In this instance, we were trying to gather input from a diverse set of stakeholders to guide strategy for our office. We designing a 1.5 hour workshop filled with fun activities to engage people in the process of delivering difficult feedback.
Understanding and empathizing with real people is only one side of the coin. In order to design those useful and enjoyable experiences, we must commit to a practice of failing fast. This calls for us to be risk-takers, always on the look-out for opportunities to test and validate assumptions. This drive for constant iteration, improvement, and experimentation is at the core of the design ethos.
Paper prototyping is one of my favorite ways to fail fast. When I was doing web design, I created a re-usable tactile design kit to facilitate designing layouts in real-time with clients. The tactile nature of the kit helped ground the conversation and focus on the organization of the content, and let us rapidly iterate and evolve the design in real-time. Check out the Tactile Design Kit online.
A designer's goal is always to facilitate conversation—the right conversation; the conversation that drives decision-making at whatever scale. Whether it's decision of the color of a button, to decision on service strategy, we create artifacts that help guide that conversation. This might be illustration of concepts, diagrams of processes, visualizations of data, evidence of complex systems, or simply a beautiful graphic. This ability to make visible the right things to guide conversation is a foundational element of design.
This is a service blueprint of the new website request process for the Jumpstart website service. In cocreating this artifact with my team, I was able to facilitate conversations around service strategy and service improvements. This blueprint helped the team see where we had the most complex steps in the service experience, and generate ideas for how to improve it.
Lastly, but most important, we have to design for good. For the good of the people impacted by our designs, to make their lives better. Even if it's as simple as reducing click count, or as complex as a whole new groundbreaking service offering, this committment to doing good is at the heart of design.
Whether you are designing interfaces or service experiences, these principles matter and guide us in our work as designers. This to me is the heart of design.