One essential truth of being a designer that Iâ€™ve realized over the past 15+ years of practice â€” with startups, large corps, and agencies â€” is that itâ€™s not really about the the design itself. Of course, you are totally expected to deliver a well-crafted, thoroughly thought-out, and deeply empathetic or contextualized solution that speaks to business goals (i.e., metrics and OKRs). Thatâ€™s simply a given, in terms of the deliverables and outcomes produced.
Thatâ€™s the job.
But the implicit â€” and Iâ€™d argue greater â€” value of a human-centered designer on a cross-functional durable team is how that professional is striving to deliver against a deeply personal aspiration, which involves constant, patient, alert-in-the-moment collaboration with non-design peers â€” Engineers, Product Managers, Sales, Marketing, Support, etc.
Those collaborations inevitably involve sensitive, perplexing, and outright fraught conversationsâ€” i.e., conflict! Ugh.
But this is where the designer serves a profound complementary role. Not as some 11th hour savior with a â€œmagical solutionâ€ (umm, thatâ€™s a fun myth) but instead as (a) an interpreter of various projected perspectives (borne out of organizational or personal agendas) and deeply felt values or beliefs (i.e., a â€œpoint of viewâ€) via aptly communicative forms (sketches, diagrams, prototypes) for iterative deliberation of latent assumptionsâ€¦and also as (b) a therapist (!) facilitating volatile dialogues that expose animosities, misunderstandings, contradicting beliefs, even bad (read: â€œcounterproductiveâ€) approaches per years of misguided habits.
The point in this case is deeply listening to the grievances exposed, while enabling the teammates to reflect a little bit themselves in a hospitable manner. Often they just need to air it all out in a group session, away from emails and Slack channels! Yes, itâ€™s indeed a therapeutic activity, helping them see a better way, coaxing them along a messy journey, assuring them things will indeed work out (i.e., their goals will be achievedâ€¦if they work together for shared aims!) â€¦And the designer can/should support them towards cultivating team trust or rapport, optimism and hope for a better way, and belief in the value of a humanistic approach that everyone can benefit.