Spreading the word about design

One of the good challenges I face as a Principal Designer is helping non-designers across the company become aware of design, appreciate its power, and recognize their own potential to contribute to design in their own way. It’s not easy! How do you convince Terry The Finance Analyst or Sarah The HR Director that design is not just for tech geeks or fancy elitists? How do we encourage everyone at all levels, departments, and teams that design really does matter across the board in lots of cool, useful, interesting ways? Hmm! It’s quite a design problem ;-) Here are a few approaches we are taking…

* Connecting various roles/functions to design as problem-solving, helping people, and improving situations. This goes back to the classic Herb Simon definition– “Everyone designs who devise courses of action aimed to change existing situations into preferred ones.” From this POV, someone in facilities is actually shaping the design of the environment conducive to a co-worker’s productivity. Or someone in finance is designing reports that communicate the financial status each quarter to help the company directors decide future budgets.

*  Advocating our corporate design principles via fun propaganda :-) This includes badges, short fun videos, stickers and tattoos, and other sorts of swag that help propagate the values of simplicity, delight, humanism, innovation and so forth in lots of ways. Basically you gotta get this stuff everywhere to everyone! But in a fun, engaging way, leverage all channels, both digital (website, newsletter, videos) and physical pieces that are personal and memorable.

* Recruiting “catalysts” to help spread the message about design. This goes a long way towards building partners for downstream engagement, so start making those relationships now! Compel and enroll others who are interested, curious, or even puzzled, to become your design emissary and virally get the message out.

* Writing relevant articles for internal websites and newsletters that feature actual people, their photos, and quotes from them. We’re trying a mantra of “I design when…” to encourage people to think about their own actions that are “design” in everyday settings at work. There’s also a tangible outcome associated to it, not some theoretical concept or zany idea. Makes it more real and meaningful overall.

* And of course holding design workshops, inviting guest speakers, organizing book clubs…these all help get non-designers to realize the value of design and what a rich, powerful field of opportunity it is that they can relate to simply and directly.

The key thing amongst all of this is emphasizing the journey-like nature of design, especially for a large company, which requires just a little bit cultural adjustment ;-) It is certainly not an overnight shift, but takes a positive, patient commitment from everyone. As a design leader in the company I’m helping play a role in that transition, as a guide, mentor, advocate, and coordinator as well as communicator. Not easy to do, but the payoff is well worth it in the end…Towards achieving a progressive, designful company that’s better in every way.


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