Reconciling Design and Management

Gadi Amit laments in his latest New Deal post “How to Find a Design Consiglieri” on FastCompany.com that management doesn’t understand how to deal with design.

Unfortunately, managing design has never been a prerequisite skill for any senior executive.

While I’d say that’s true, I’m not sure it’s a failing that can be blamed just on executives. As corporate designers we should be able to fit our company’s goals and culture in to what we do, and as outside design consultants we should be able to manage ourselves—becoming problem solvers instead of purveyors of mysterious ‘art’ or ‘process.’

What we need is a new/old model of wisdom, precision and accountability. The case here is for the design management styled after the old Meister–the trustworthy practitioner with the proven experience and the concurrent creative prowess. These Meisters (think IBM’s Richard Sapper, or Apple’s Jonathan Ives) operate in a way unrecognized and never acknowledged by the design management creed.

That’s an interesting solution, but it raises some questions: How common are these folks? How can most companies afford them? And where do you find them?

On the third question, we are offered this way of recognizing ‘the Meister.’

1. Can this designer maintain relationship for years? Ask for their track-record.

2. Can he or she deliver consistently? Verify the real-market performance of their work, not the talking-points of a PowerPoint presentation.

3. The disruptive question: What is the exact size of a detail in their latest success story? A true practitioner with hands-on command of details will answer right away–178mm.

A track record is great. Talk to people who they’ve work with before. Looking for market performance is also refreshingly results-oriented. The disruptive question strikes me as strange. If you’re really looking for someone who can manage design strategy, then someone who spends time memorizing the details could be counter-productive.

The role that’s described is one of a person who understands how design fits a companies strategy. That person needs to be able to trust someone else with the 178mm and spend their time as a translator between design, engineering and business. A more diruptive set of questions would be why 178mm? Where did that number come from? Was it intentional, or did it arrive out of some engineering requirement? Some manufacturing process requirement? Did marketing want a particular size for that feature?

If you’re looking for a Consiglieri they should be able to move through all three worlds and understand how they work together and where they don’t.

2 thoughts on “Reconciling Design and Management

  1. The inherent tension between design as delivery and design as disruption is best summarized by:”Companies hire designers to make change -BUT – Companies use designers to avoid change”One interesting point I have noticed is that change, for designers, is usually well within our personal comfort zone. At the same time, for management (and the market) change does not only sometimes lie outside of the comfort zone, but is often simply the wrong path to take. For example, shifting a visual design language(a logo, a website) too quickly may damage brand equity, robbing loyal customers from long time values; sometimes “the same good ol’ thing” is exactly what we are seeking as customers.In this context, I believe the design manager’s responsibility is to hold this discussion with management, and to think forward for the company by defining forward thinking deliverables for the design team. Design deliverables are the most compelling arguments a design manager can make, to promote change. No other function in a company (or outside of it, as consultant, for that matter) has this type of deliverables.

  2. Noam–great comment. You are very right about the compelling nature of design deliverables. They have a power that is so very visceral compared to a spreadsheet or market report. Also, it’s hard to live within a companies limits and conventions and recreate them at the same time. But, that tension is often where really interesting things are created.

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