Designers Are The Enemy of Design

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By: David Armano

Stop what you're doing and go read this.

Bruce Nussbaum of BusinessWeek has written what I consider to be a near-manifesto which challenges our assumptions of what design is, who designers are—and how this all impacts the business world as we move into the next generation (and yes, it's relevant to brands).  The piece is a bold form of communication, and I think comes from the heart.  Bruce shares a bit of personal experience in how he is trying to shape his own teams and working process.  He's also a little "politically incorrect" calling out Al Gore for his own hefty carbon footprint.  And Bruce uses Mink fur coats to illustrate the idea of sustainability—a risky analogy, but when you read it in context, makes perfect sense.  Personally for me—this is one of the more refreshing reads I've seen from a mainstream business journalist in a while.  He almost sounds like a "blogger".  You got a problem with that?  🙂

Check out the post and do so with an open mind.  Let it simmer a bit.  Then think about it as you start your day on Monday morning.  Below are some choice bits—I added some of my own visuals where it seemed like there was a fit.  Enjoy.

"Are Designers The Enemy of Design?

In the name of provocation, let me start by saying that DESIGNERS SUCK. I’m sorry. It’s true. DESIGNERS SUCK. There’s a big backlash against design going on today and it’s because designers suck.

So let me tell you why. Designers suck because they are arrogant. The blogs and websites are full of designers shouting how awful it is that now, thanks to Macs, Web 2.0, even YouTube, EVERYONE is a designer. Core 77 recently ran an article on this backlash and so did we on our Innovation & Design site. Designers are saying that Design is everywhere, done by everyone. So Design is debased, eroded, insulted. The subtext, of course, is that Real design can only be done by great star designers."

"This is simply not true.  Design Democracy is the wave of the future."

"But the design of our music experiences, the design of our MySpace pages, the design of our blogs, the design of our clothes, the design of our online community chats, the design of our Class of ’95 brochures, the design of our screens, the design of the designs on our bodies—We are all designing more of our lives. And with more and more tools, we, the masses, want to design anything that touches us on the journey, the big journey through life. People want to participate in the design of their lives. They insist on being part of the conversation about their lives."

"Egos and silos are coming down, participation is expanding, tools are widespread and everyone wants to play. People want to be in the design sandbox so you have to figure out how to get them in and do design with them."

"Today, I kind of coach a team of about 8 people, 6 women in their early 30’s, one guy in his thirties, and a women in her twenties (she’s Canadian and a generation ahead of the 30-something sisters in technology). Our process is totally different from the hierarchical way of writing and editing we had just a few years ago. We all write for both platforms—online and print, and do a little TV on the side. Our job today as journalists is to curate conversations among groups within our audience"

"Business men and women don’t like the term “design.” I think they think it implies drapes or dresses. Even top CEOs who embrace design don’t want to call it that. They want to call it “Innovation.” That has a manly right to it. It’s strong, techie."

"But how do people who’ve spent a lifetime using their left-brain, suddenly shift to using both their left and their right? How do people used to deconstructing old problems into their parts and squeezing answers out of each of them then learn to see problems with fresh eyes and integrate parts of many solutions into one new one."

"Over the past decade, design has evolved to become an articulated, formalized method of solving problems that can be widely used in business—and in civil society. Design’s focus on observing consumer/patient/student—human behavior, it’s emphasis on iteration and speed, its ability to construct, not destruct, its search for new options and opportunities, its ability to connect to powerful emotions, its optimism, made converts out of tough CEOs."

"We design stories with our audience. As John Battelle said recently, the conversation now is the content. It’s not about the finished story but about the ongoing story. It’s the conversation. And since most conversations don’t have a conclusion, they are ongoing. We live a life in beta."

We live life in beta.  That's a nice way to summarize the spirit of the essay.  You can look at BusinessWeek critically and poke all kinds of holes in what they do if you want.  Same with any organization.  But I believe Bruce and his staff are genuinely grappling with the changes we're witnessing and trying to make sense of it—even in the context of how it applies to a big mainstream publication like BusinessWeek.  They're out there.  Looking.  Learning. Taking it in.  Prior to my mentions in BusinessWeek, it was Jessi Hempel who found me—I didn't find her.

Lastly, another reason that I relate to Bruce's essay is that I think we may be witnessing a gradual but real change in how we create.  The ego-driven top down, traditional style of management will continue to be challenged in the years to come.  Innovation will continue to come from anywhere—in places we least expect it.  Designers may still have the stigma of being stylists—but that won't matter, because at the end of the day good experiences which lead to relationships will rule.  Relationships between people and brands and with each other.  And that, my friends is by design.

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