Design is Different (was: eBay redesign)
>> The answer has to do with level of detail. A "business
>> goal" is sometimes very general, e.g. to "increase
>> revenue, or it can be more specific but not quite
>> design-granular, e.g. "make it easier for users to set
>> up seller accounts". A "design goal" might be inspired
>> by or based on a business goal, but is a little more
>> granular. It's a child of a business goal. For example,
>> "making the BUY button easier to find" is a design goal
>> for the "increase revenue" business goal. Or "simplify
>> the merchant sign-up process into a single page" might
>> be a design goal to help "make it easier for users to
>> set up seller accounts".
> With all due respect, your statements are only true if you
> have evidence to tell you that making the BUY button easier
> to find will actually increase revenues, or that simplifying
> the process into one page will make it easier to set up.
Really? All design decisions require "evidence"? That's new to me.
Almost (but not quite) none of my design decisions involve the use of
evidence, and I would imagine that 99.9% of all design decisions made by
all designers use even less evidence than I do. Most design decisions
use assumptions, experience, insight, vague memories of prior successes
and failures, sometimes a little research, and sometimes the harder
decisions will need to incorporate some overt evidence.
The essence of a *design strategy* is the decision, whether based on
evidence or gut instinct or some combination thereof, that making
changes or investments specifically in design will improve a product.
Some companies make very different choices with regard to their design
Example: My examples of the BUY button and the one-page signup
implicitly presume that some person used evidence or instinct to decide
to make a specific design change. I used these as examplea of how things
actually happen: some smart person, whether it's a design-conscious CEO
at the top or a usability-testing information architect near the bottom,
decided that the BUY button was too small and that it needed to be
bigger. In many companies, such decisions are rare -- in others, they
happen a hundred times a day. These solutions are design solutions, and
they are worth talking about as fundamentally and strategically
different from other types of business decisions.
On the flip side, many business decision makers do NOT involve design in
the solutions to their problems. A business can decide to hire 1
designer instead of 10, or they can decide to not invest in a site
redesign for 5 years straight, or the CEO can choose to ignore repeated
requests by the design team to conduct usability testing on the checkout
pages. In these cases, a senior business decision maker has decided that
design is not strategically important, that they want to spend their
money elsewhere, on something other than design.
> Simplifying product offerings isn't a design activity?
> Enhancing functionality to use third-party partners to
> simplify the process isn't a design activity?
> You have a much narrower perspective of what design is
> than I do. In my mind, if it affects the experience of
> the user, it's design.
Jared, you are using what I think to be a rather lofty holistic
definition of the word "design" that I have a lot of respect for in the
abstract sense, but which has little practical use for me in the real
world. When I say "design" I almost always mean the thing that people
with the word "design" on their business cards do, the dollars in the
budget with the word "design" next to them. By your reasoning, almost
anything at all can be called design, rendering the word completely
Think of it this way: Everything you've describes as falling under the
category of "design" could just as easily, and in some ways more easily,
fall under the category of "branding". Or "marketing". But we wouldn't
think to use those terms so freely because we need those words to
describe specific aspects of how a business operates -- so how is design
any different? Why should we dilute the meaning of the word design?
> A business leader does not tell their team to "increase
> revenue" without more specific direction either.
Yes, but the direction they give may or may not involve paying attention
to design. For example, there is a huge difference between the design
decision process at Apple versus the same process at eBay, and these
differences are the result of different degrees of concern for design as
part of an overall business strategy.
There is a huge difference between the way Chinese companies treat
design and branding and the way American companies treat design and
branding. Particularly in Western business, design is a full-blown
commodity. It is something that companies can choose to invest in and
then sell to consumers. I just heard a story on the radio about how
Chinese manufacturers are starting to learn how to improve their ability
to sell design (as in *industrial design*) and branding because both are
major profit drivers that China has not fully exploited yet because the
skills in those areas aren't where they are in the west. In this
context, just to give an example, it is critical that we stick to a
narrow definition of what design is, otherwise we might as well say that
these Chinese companies already have strong design teams simply because
they are profitable, which is silly.
> Certainly you don't think design leaders have
> different leadership skills than other types
> of leaders?
Good God yes they do! Design leaders have very different leadership
skills from other types of leaders. For one thing, can understand many
of the details of the field(s) of design, the skills and techniques.
They can distinguish good design from bad design, and can describe the
reasons why to other designers and to laymen. They can tell a good
designer from a bad designer, and how to mentor other designers. They
know how to communicate to designers, and how to enable designers to
communicate with each other. To write all this stuff off as plain old
"leadership" is to neglect or even to demean the specific things that
designers are all about.
> Every time we try to draw the line between "business"
> and "design" we get ourselves into trouble.
I know you mean well (yes, designers should be involved in business
decisions like pricing and product structuring!), but I think you may be
asking us to go too far. If we blur the line too much in our
well-justified enthusiasm to educate and elevate the status of
designers, to correct design's long-standing misunderstandings of
business, we risk diluting the meaning of design itself, undermining the
enormous body of specific knowledge and skills that design has accrued,
and ultimately enabling people without design skills to be responsible
for design decisions -- the opposite of your presumed intention of
integrating design into business decisions.
In this "design is everything" world, an ambitious b-school student can
now go to a "d-school" to learn how to wear a turtleneck shirt, and
eventually find themselves leading and directing a team of designers
without ever having designed anything him or herself. This is, I think,
part of what Dan Saffer is lamenting (http://tinyurl.com/3xew3g) when he
sees people calling themselves designers but who have no actual
boots-on-the-ground design skills.
Design is different. Design is special. Let's treat it that way.