Increasingly, more and more companies are looking for great design leadership these days. They are being told that their company needs a bigger focus on design thinking and are keen to adopt more design-centric principles. But over and over, when these companies talk to designers, they hear about craftsmanship—about brand consistency, and polished design, designers who can code, and style guides, and prototyping, and testing — the designer’s craft.
All of those things are good — mandatory even. But for us to truly understand the best way to help a business we have to start focusing on what makes the business successful. We must first understand business in general. Then we will better understand where craft is important (and where it is excessive).
Instead, designers are often seen as someone that needs to have the important business goals explained to them in the most basic of ways. I think our suggestions about design would carry a lot more weight if we were able to have insightful conversations and offer valuable suggestions about core business principles.
Where we are now
There are a lot of designers out there that are starting to think seriously about how their decisions impact their companies. In general, our focus on user research and analytics has helped a ton in giving more credence to the voices of designers. We’re also seeing great examples of design led companies and designers impacting the core of big businesses—like Airbnb, Pocket, Facebook, Google, Slack, and a loads of others.
I would argue that those companies are as successful as they are because they have designers that are focusing more on what those businesses need than on how perfect every pixel is going to look.
Shifting our focus
So how do we start thinking about design’s impact on business?
Maybe its going all out and getting an MBA. (All of the designers I know that have done this are actively contributing to the core of their business). But maybe it’s even more simple. Maybe its talking to the sales team to understand what the market looks like. Maybe it’s talking to shipping and fulfillment to understand why orders are always a day late. Maybe it’s reading over the Q1 projections and finding out that the key initiatives for the quarter have nothing to do with refactoring your CSS. Maybe it’s taking a night class in economics. Or maybe it’s just spending the night googling how fund raising and cap tables work instead of how to use the newest sketch plugin.
Maybe we should be spending our time learning about business principles — how to choose business models, how to manage teams, how to conduct competitive analysis, how to make projections, etc.
Maybe we should try to learn about the issues a CEO or VP faces and try to use design to help them solve their problems? Maybe we should try to figure out what keeps them up at night and help them solve their problems — instead of ours.
I’m not saying we should start shipping poorly designed experiences. We have to keep growing and focusing on craft. If we don’t, nobody else will. But let’s also start understanding the businesses we work for and what they need in order to grow. If we’re able to do that, we will continue to gain more influence, and continue to create products that are more impactful—both for our companies and for the people that use them.