Daniel Burka, design partner at Google Ventures recently wrote up a rather feisty piece in defence of an article written by Jared Spool, founder of design school Centre Center. Mr Spool argued that the performance engineers at Netflix, whose core job was to maintain complex technical systems, had inadvertently become designers as they were conscientiously making decisions that dramatically affected a viewer’s user experience.
As Mr Burka put it:
Whether you like it or not, whether you approve it or not, people outside of your design team are making significant design choices that affect your customers in important ways. They are designing your product. They are designers.
I could not agree more with that, and in fact, it is liberating to encounter a design expert who shares what I have suspected a long time and now believe in the gospel, that:
Everyone needs a design mindset.
Having worked in finance and procurement, and even though I did not have “design” in my job titles, that in order to do my best work, it was always important for me to understand how my work affected the user’s experience. And by user, I define it broadly to include anyone, whether it was a customer, stakeholder or supplier, who used any product, which I’m defining broadly, too, to include systems and processes, that I had “designed”.
This is not to say that everyone should be trained as a designer but rather, as Mr Burka captures it succintly:
Does everyone need all the skills of a designer? Of course not. But each person needs to be armed with the tools to understand how their decisions affect the customer experience.
What I found patently frustrating in my previous operational roles was the struggle to find the right tools to understand how my work was impacting users. For example, in a previous job, I was tasked with rolling out an enterprise-wide travel and expense management tool to 5,000+ internal users but while I understood the tool, procedures and policies, it was perpetually an uphill battle to assess the impact of the decisions that our project team was making had had on users. I did not have the tools to do a rapid assessment and to correct for any miscalculations, which are prone to happen under the pressures that projects attract.
That said, my experience is testimony that opportunity abounds for designers to reach out and work together with non-designers:
Having more people who do design is additive, not competitive. These designers make your team and your product stronger, because they’re contributing from their unique perspectives. Help them bolster their skills, and use their expertise to the advantage of your product and company.
After all, great product design is much more than just ID or UXD:
Focusing on the core business is what differentiates real product design from interface design or even user experience design. Fundamental product design is really hard and requires a lot of legwork, but this is what designers at the highest level do — and it’s why their work is better than yours.