Archive for the ‘Design as a Profession’ Category

Cusp 2013 and the Design of Everything

Friday, September 27th, 2013


Patrick Lynch, City of Chicago Pipe Band and 2013 U.S. National Champion

Chicago is a design city. It is the cradle of mid-century modern architecture. It buzzes — constantly.

I attended the Cusp Conference there a week ago. It had everything from Constance Adams, NASA space architect; to a sword swallower; a Canadian researcher hoping to gaze at the actual edge of the universe from a balloon above the Antarctic this year; to Dave Carroll, the guy who produced the viral video United Breaks Guitars; and — oh, yeah — a bag piper and a teenage rock band. This melange was about the “design of everything”. For the attendees (I would estimate about 90% non-designers) it was an eye-opener to what is going on right now in design. The hackneyed term “Design Thinking” (with apologies to Bruce Nussbaum) has permeated the awareness of the business folks who are shaking things up. What we have called “thinking out of the box” is given a framework and process through design thinking (this time no caps, on purpose).

Maria Giudice of Google

Maria Giudice of Google

There is no magic bullet, no acronym-laced corporate efficiency model here. It’s about thinking outside of comfortable paradigms and just flippin’ doing things differently. And, as Maria Giudice from Google puts it, it’s just plain GSD (Getting Shit Done). Business models are changing. No longer are the good companies looking for cost-efficient ways to do the same thing more cheaply. The good ones are looking for ways to get new things done, to create something that helps their customers, helps the world and is valuable enough that people want to pay for it. It’s about adding real value, not taking away. As Marsha Sinetar says:

Do what you love and the money will follow.

And that doesn’t just apply to individuals. If you put heart into what you manufacture, into the services you provide, people feel it. You have a clear idea of who and what you are as a company. You know your story.

Story telling is what I am most interested in for my work. I love finding the stories that are sometimes buried deep inside companies and bringing them into the light. A good story attracts good employees, good customers, good suppliers — good stuff.  And a good story is the way for people to understand you and become followers, promoters of your company.

I’ll be at Cusp next year, looking into the future of business.

Design Thinking Will Be at the Core of Innovation in the Not Too Distant Future

Sunday, November 11th, 2012

“Designers are the ones best situated to figure out how a kit of parts can become something more — they’re the ones who can figure out the human interface for a vast chain. If they do their job right, the result — a working ecosystem — is a far better platform for innovation than an isolated product.

This article in Fast Company, October 2012, Why Good Design Is Finally A Bottom Line Investment explains, with the broadest brushstrokes, how much Design and Design Thinking have changed in 40 years. When IBM CEO Thomas Watson Jr. first said  in 1973 that “good design is good business”, he was still talking about skilled craft in aesthetics. He wasn’t wrong, but I think he would be gobsmacked by where design is now headed.

The innate ability that allows designers to “think outside the box” and to blend deductive and inductive reasoning with abductive reasoning (that intuitive leap of faith that designers can take), is the skill that allows design thinkers to help organizations innovate. And when I say innovate, I don’t mean tweaking the sweetener in a soda, I mean creating entirely new ideas; disruptive ideas — ideas that can, potentially, break down the wicked problems we struggle with today.

How can we turn the giant tide of consumerism around before we destroy the planet? How are we going to pay for the health care of an aging boomer bubble with a young workforce far smaller than that aging population? Or, one of my personal missions, how can we convince the BC forest industry that creating and owning businesses that use and refine the resources they harvest could actually give them far greater profit margins, create jobs and improve the lives of everyone in the province.

There will always be design, and my fondest hope is that it will only ever be great design. But I see the mental toolkit available to designers as being much more far-reaching than beautiful posters, logos and chairs. There will be a new subset in the profession that will not simply have access to the C-suite. It will drive the innovation of business. It will be a profession armed with post-graduate degrees in design as well as business administration. It will look beyond the reliable algorithms of business success to new and better ways for us to manage our planet and to live in it more happily. That’s where I want to be.

How Good is Free?

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

What is the value of creative work? It’s an interesting point of discussion. Jessica Hische and Jon Tan spoke at Creative Mornings Vancouver last Friday and pondered it out loud. It is a subject Jessica has written about to great renown in her blog post On Getting Paid, The Dark Art of Pricing.

There are so many opportunities to pay little or no money for design on the internet. I would equate it to getting a great deal on a gross of chlorine pucks — but you don’t own a pool. Great deal. Not useful. You can buy a logo for $99. It might make you happy, but it’s not going to help your business that much. But, hey…it was $99! If your business is just like all of your competitors’ businesses, you can just slap up your shingle with your $99 logo and let the chips fall where they may. Doesn’t make much difference. But, if you believe your business is truly unique — that you have some competitive advantage — then your logo should reflect that. It should reflect your pride and it shouldn’t just be a picture of what you do, but a representation of your passion in doing it. When you hire a professional designer to work with, you generally get someone with a whole lot of training who asks a lot of questions rather than doing whatever you ask them to do. That’s because they are good at what they do and they respect that you are good at what you do.

Serious businesses get this. They do pay properly for design because they know how valuable it is in building their brand equity. Not all serious businesses are big businesses either. They’re just businesses in it for the long haul.

Another issue with free stuff is sustainability, and this came up in Jessica and Jon’s talk with respect to buying typefaces — or not buying them, as is often the case. A well-designed typeface takes 12-18 months to be drawn, expanded to different weights and point sizes, etc. And this process is carried out by a designer who has 4-6 years of specialized schooling. The professional type design community is small. There are no faceless multinationals making nauseating piles of money on typefaces. So, if you’re not paying anyone for it, then the designer is working for free.

Now, I didn’t go into design because I was a talent with numbers, but I’m pretty sure you can’t get by very long without an income. So, if you don’t make money at what you’re doing, you won’t be able to continue to do it. So, that means fewer type designers, fewer decent typefaces, etc. For the $25 - $150 the majority of typefaces cost, they’re often a bargain at twice the price. Not quite free, but really, really good. When you pay for typefaces, you’re supporting the ongoing development of type for the future. You’re respecting the person who makes this their life’s work. And you’re respecting your own profession by supporting others within it.

Don’t undercut. Don’t work for free. Remember that what you do has value and respect the same in others.

Turning things upside down

Saturday, April 21st, 2012

Photograph by Paul Eekhoff. Design by Herrainco for Methanex Corp.
Photograph by Paul Eekhoff. Design by Herrainco for Methanex Corp.

I’ve had a few paradigm shifts happen of late. Clients have called me, just for my opinion. Not about design. About stuff — their businesses, their thinking, their strategy.

This is what I like about my profession and what I continue to beat the drum about regarding design. It’s a thinking profession, not an art profession. True, designers make beautiful things, but that’s largely the given part of it. Anyone with a lick of talent can make something pretty, but not everyone can make something meaningful. To make something meaningful, you have to know things about the thing you want to make meaningful. But most importantly, you need to know what is meaningful to the people you’re talking to.

That nexus of meaning is where design thinking lives. And again, it’s not about the “design” thinking you think it is. If you are 99% of the world, you think design thinking is about choosing a typeface, images, colour and/or making a sketch of a chair or an aerodynamic bicycle to make a cool looking thing, preferably as “of the moment” as possible. Wrong.

Design thinking is turning problems upside down. It’s about asking why, why and WHY. Design thinking is something anyone who cares to do it can use. Business, students, scientists, doctors, receptionists….You can make any wicked problem (yes, that is a link to the Harvard Business Review, because design thinking is a strategic business tool) more surmountable by challenging assumptions. As human beings, we’re comfortable with assumptions. They’re quick, supported by the vast majority and make us feel secure. But they’re generally a straight path to the banal and predictable, which means status quo. You stay stuck. You don’t grow. You don’t get any better than “okay”.

You don’t need to be a daredevil of a risk taker to do this. Back up, back WAY up. Look at the problem from far away. Take someone with you. What do they see? Take a picture. Make it black and white. Make it colour. Cut it into pieces and put it together another way. This is what I love to do. It’s what makes us a good consultancy. You can do it, too, but you need to start challenging yourself to turn things upside down.