Design as ‘value’

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 “value” even mean anymore? And for the design leader who is dancing across multiple levels of craft in their work — from production to storytelling to principled compromise— how does value fit into that interpretive equation? How does one talk about the value of design? 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)…as well as the intersecting demands of various stakeholders, as exemplified by Eames’ 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 Buchanan’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. 

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