What do designers want?

I remember on my first job out of school, just a couple months after graduating from CMU, one of the principal designers at Oracle had a quick introductory chat with me to help me get settled in. Great chat, very inspiring. He himself was trained at Royal College of Art (RCA) in industrial design and architecture too I think. He’s now the VP of the Oracle UX team.

Anyway, one of the key things he said to me was: “What do you want as a designer? It’s what every designer wants–to have influence, to change things.” Influence. That’s the key elusive thing that’s highly sought but difficult to possess and make good on.

Design is just one competing element in a complex organizational system serving the primary busines function. BodyMedia’s Head of Design Chris Pacione has described business as a “multifaceted and complex organism…students need to recognize what value they offer the organization”.

The fact is design functions within a complex milieu of forces. There is an interdependent system of business actions via some sponsoring organizations (marketing, engineering, research, etc.), oscillating among dynamic levels of budget, time, and resource availability, given the lifecycle of the company (and market conditions), all of which continuously shape corporate strategy. In addition, there are constituencies in product development, like customers and partners, armed with competing requirements. As structural engineer and author Henry Petroski says, this complexity is inherent to design practice:

“Designing anything involves satisfying constraints, making choices, containing costs, and accepting compromises.”

And designing requires a healthy dose of achieving influence, through rhetorical means, persuasive communication, a strong way to leverage one’s own personality, experience, knowledge, and of course the “stuff” that gets made in the design process: diagrams, sketches, mock-ups, prototypes.

It’s all about influence. (more later about power, control, ego, and fame :-)

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