Design Will Define You (Whether You Embrace It or Not)

I tend to define design as “the intentional ordering of components” or “logically solving problems.” That’s a much broader definition and meaning than we usually attach to design, or for that matter, to designers. It’s typical to view design as the window dressing, the Photoshop files, the pretty stuff, etc. Design is about the way things look, right? You hire a designer to make things look nice, to pick typefaces or colors, and draw logos, don’t you?

That’s partially true, but deadly false if it’s your sole viewpoint. If design doesn’t show up on our radar until the end of a project and we see it as nothing more than the icing, we’ll probably get a pretty looking, icing-covered poop cake. From a distance, it looks great; the closer you get to it, the more you realize something stinks. And let’s hope no one has to actually use it, because they won’t walk away happy, much less ever wanting an encore performance. Second chances are hard to come by for those that don’t value design.

Good design is not a slick add-on or an optional extra. Good design is an essential part of every interaction, every touchpoint, every service opportunity, every creative endeavor, and every communication between your organization and your customers/guests. The wayfinding signage in your local mall or the international airport, the best path of traffic from the door to the register in an electronics or grocery store, the number of steps it takes me to accomplish a given task through your system, the flow of an event—all of these things are designed, or at least should be.

Design is a choice. It is intentional. For every dollar you spend and hour you devote to improving the design culture of your organization, you make a succinct, profound statement about what is valuable and important to you—about the character of your organization. Good design reflects the core of what you stand for and what/who you value. An all-encompassing design culture and strategy in every aspect of your thinking is a more tangible representation of your identity than any clever mission statement or advertisement. And if your design sucks, it simply means you don’t care about people. You don’t bother with their experiences, their perceptions, their take-away impressions, the way they move through your environments or see your world. You don’t care about them. 

We can show people that we value their experience(s), top-to-bottom, and that we’re constantly thinking of how to solve problems, ease friction, remove barriers, and serve them in World Class Ways. We have a huge opportunity at changing someone’s expectations (not a word to be taken lightly), but a consistent culture of poorly designed experiences, communications, websites, and transactions shows the opposite. In that, we choose not to alter their perceptions or challenge the status quo. We do business as usual, which isn’t nearly enough.

Tom Peters says:

[Design is] damned hard work, and it requires constant care and attention and love and affection and obsession.

If you can’t sustain it, don’t start it. Don’t even bother. But if you don’t start it, it means you don’t see it as a valuable enough endeavor (too soft a word? How about mission?) to find or build a passionate design culture that owns every experience you create at every level. 

Like Tom said, it isn’t easy. But it matters.