What is Design? design?

From a business perspective – What is design and what is it good for?

The old addage of “If you can’t explain it, then you probably don’t understand it” applies here also. From my perspective I can define ‘what is design’ by four rules.

1) Design is a subset of innovation.

Yes yes yes I know thats heresy, but its a simple enough test, you can easily innovate without design – engineers and scientists do it all the time. BUT you cannot design without innovating, it is fundamental to what we think of as design. In fact we are only just waking up to design because innovation through traditional methods is no longer enough.

2) It’s exciting.
The whole point of design is to do something interesting and insightful, not just iterative. Kano defines different types of quality and by his definitions, Design is all about creating ‘exciting’ quality products/services/offerings.

Wikipedia Kano Quality Model

3) Its Intuitive

You can’t do it from a book. Its always about a subjective application of tacit knowledge and experience. Thats why some people can do ‘design’ and others can’t. Because some time, some where, you need to both gather enough knowledge and enough experience to be able to apply the skills to problem solving. Graphic design is a great example, the tools are no substitute for talent, and an artist ( one off self expressions) are not the same as production focussed visual communications.

4) Its best for complicated / complex – wicked problems.

Design makes no difference when its a 1+1 problem, its only when there is complexity, some subtlety and lots of variables at work that design becomes powerful (or relevant). Think Branding or Marketing, complex gnarly problems with no ‘right’ answer. Change one thing and you change the lot.

This is where aesthetics and humans come into it. Theres no simple measure or mechanical method to create aesthetically elegant products, so it always comes down to a person who can intuitively come up with an exciting answer to a complex problem. When a person is the customer/user then there’s always more than one answer and that’s the domain of design.

So all this means we can actually pretty accurately define design in business management terms of Knowledge Management, Quality and Problem Solving characteristics as part of an intentional innovation process.

Next up a diagram of why Managers are from Mars and Designers are from Venus…

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