Value is an overused word.
Especially in Silicon Valley tech culture, amid investor-led conversations, value is so heavily overused. Value this, value that. Keep generating value. Yes, of course. Yet, it all seems just so trite, and empty, as a concept. What does â€œvalueâ€ even mean anymore? And for the design leader who is dancing across multiple levels of craft in their work â€” from production to storytelling to principled compromiseâ€” how does value fit into that interpretive equation? How does one talk about the value of design?Â Of a design? Of designing? Of being a designer?
Sigh. So many angles to analyze!
I don’t have the time to write a doctoral dissertation on all this…but I suppose one practical way to describe design’s value is to articulate its usefulness, usability, and desirability, pertaining to the effected chain of customers and partners (i.e., an enterprise ecosystem)â€¦as well as the intersecting demands of various stakeholders, as exemplified by Eamesâ€™ Venn diagram of competing concerns.
Another way is to deeply dive into how the design creates significance or meaning for people, from a deeply humanistic approach. This borrows from Richard Buchananâ€™s model of values in design — is the design good, fair, just, right? This suggests regarding value as an emergent outcome from a defined set of related principles that propose a point of view, based upon some informed intuition of users/contexts, and provides decision-making rationale when things get tough.
OK. So where does this leave the designer trying to deliver something of quality and … value? This might be highly simplistic, but I propose that design’s value is best viewed in three ways: impact, inspiration, and influence.
Design value as impact: This implies a tangible outcome that is observable, recognizable, and somehow measurable (or describable via specific criteria & qualities). Like a real physical impact, there's something left behind, of consequence and resonance.
Design value as inspiration: This suggests provocation, or stimulation, of both imagination (optimistic possibilities for a better future) and arguments (dialogues of opposition to arrive at some truth or understanding) around contrasting points of view, to tease out what's critical and essential.
Design value as influence: In doing design, leading design, or just being a designer, relationships with cross-functional peers is vital...and knowing their agendas, motives, and deeply held values (or incentives) to get a design done. Being able to influence them via the powers and artifacts of design is valuable skill indeed.