So much of success is based on triangulating: the right action, in the right place, at the right time. A mix of what, why and how. Businesses literally spend most of their money trying to uncover the most productive use of time and resources, solving for the right thing in the right place at the right time. Whether it’s determining market fit, or clarifying the process used to make decisions or make widgets or ship products. Logistics, frameworks, lifecycles. all great examples of businesses clarifying what to do, where and when.
Add to that the messy, creative and semi-unstructured endeavor of design and you’re bound to create a little friction. Colleagues look for ways to make method of designers’ madness. Quite often it IS there — but many of the best designers have gotten quite good at just knowing what to do, when. Far fewer are equally talented at the art of unpacking those gut-driven decisions to teach and scale the magic of ‘messy’ with the scalable outcomes of ‘method’.
Intuit is advantaged. Our CEO has personally, explicitly declared the importance of Design for Delight (D4D) in every geography where we have a presence. Founder Scott Cook describes D4D as “our number one weapon in attaining growth, and there is no number two.” Intuit’s “True North” positions customer outcomes ahead of partner, business and stockholder outcomes (and employee outcomes ahead of both?!). Design leadership sits at every table there is at intuit, from the CEO staff to the Business Unit Senior Leadership Teams. It’s a special company.
For new companies just now inviting design to “a table” — or adding the priority of Customer Experience to a long list of existing priorities: just how do designers work (inside their brains and inside your offices)? And how do you incorporate them into your processes? Oh boy…
Designers are good at finding problems to solve.
They need time, space and support to go experience what your customers experience. They are naturally curious about, and inspired by, the places where your customers go, the needs they have, and the preference they develop. Designers are inspired by details that the casual observer would almost certainly miss.
Designers are good at coming up with ideas to solve problems.
They need time, space and support to dream and explore and research and collect and ponder. They will not take to sizing that time in a Jira story well. So, Careful with that Scrum, Eugene. Supporting the generative nature of designers is NOT a conference room full of red bull and sticky notes (although yeah, those). It’s physical space where they can immerse (and immerse you) in the details they’ve collected, the ideas they’ve tested, the aha’s they’ve had and the intent they’ve developed. They need time to unpack their rationale (the problem, the themes and principles that frame the solution, their big insights). They need the tools and skills of storytelling — and an audience that is patient and open enough to tune in for the narrative.
Designers need to experiment — and try different things.
They need time, space and support (both financial and emotional) to try stuff and fail. Some of what designers do is throw-away. My mom would call it grist for the mill. Design is messy, non-linear— and occasionally utterly inefficient. Telling designers to hurry up is not productive. Giving them guardrails––realistic ones––is helpful in setting their expectations. If you’re not sure what realistic is, ask lots of good questions at the early project definition phase. “How much time do you need? What’s that based on? How can we help? Do you need a little time to put a plan together?” Not “Why is this taking so long? Have you thought about how you’d do it with half the time, half the money and twice as many meetings? Have you tried blockchain?” etc.
Designers love to refine ideas, making them simpler, more magical and more beautiful.
Designers need time to watch, learn, adjust and experiment BEFORE moving on to the next thing. All the answers are not revealed in the initial research, in the experiments and even in the final prototypes. Many of the answers are revealed once real data is flowing through your experience or your customers are consistently using your product in unique and unexpected ways. These are design basics — and yet we are shocked how quickly these customer-centered opportunities melt under the pressure of scaling, monetizing and addressing feedback from a thousand semi-relevant inputs.
Yes. Designers want it to be pretty. Pretty is an outcome. Even on oil rigs and toilet plumbing and motherboards. Please celebrate that your designers give a shit and sweat the details. Don’t demean their passion for aesthetics. Or mistake it as the shallow trappings of “how it looks.” Recognize that design is about heavy lifting AND elegance. Those things matter to your customers. Inelegant solutions will always fall to their elegant competitors. Even less expensive ones. Especially feature-laden ones. Aesthetics IS desirability. Desirability is a differentiator. The most admired companies in the world have prioritized desirability — it’s a business decision, and it’s good business. They could use support here. They need a few non-designers that co-evangelize the importance of spending time to get it right.
Designers need results.
They need to ship. Whether it’s products or packages or releases or buildings or cars or whatever the hell else you hired them to make. They need to know how it went. Show them the data! Show them the business plan. Show them where your products are doing well and where they are falling down. These are critical inputs to the design and iteration process. They are interested. And they are just as constructively dissatisfied as your marketing and sales leaders. They also want credit. Deep, heartfelt, couldn’t-have-done-it-without-you, evidence-based credit, where it’s due. Without it, the best designers are gone.
Designers need leadership.
Designers need leaders to demonstrate that the business values them. And understands them. And understands design (or is trying incredibly hard to understand design). And makes space and time and support and budget for design. And understands what’s needed now. Or asks.
Delighting customers starts with delighting each other. Designers need work to be fun. Not jokey circus fun. Intense. But light-hearted. A lot of inspiration comes from experiences that seem to have NOTHING to do with the business objectives right in front of you. Be careful not to spend so much time breathing your own air, drinking your own Kool-Aid and reading your own business results that you lose sight of the things that inspire your customers and your employees. Designers are perfect for that.
Designers are serious about their jobs. Designers want to learn the business. They want to grow. They want responsibility. They can offer critical insight in the most business-y of situations. Give them air time. Be ready for questions that are different. Ask their thoughts. Be ready for answers that feel different.
Designers may put up with your organization tweaking design to fit into your process — until they realize it compromises their ability to do what they’re good at: finding problems worth solving, solving those problems with elegance, and being rewarded for their role in the business’ success. In a highly competitive talent market where the most elegant solutions win, businesses literally can’t afford to lead any differently.