We see some interesting acquisitions in the design space recently – Lunar by McKinsey, DesignIT by Wipro to name the prominent two. The growth of digital business has put creativity and innovation ahead of conventional value of cost and efficiency. Design firms looking for opportunities to scale has found alliances with large organizations who are seeking design capability to delight customer experience. How these alliances work out would be interesting to watch.
Though this opens up exciting world of opportunities, it also throws challenges for designers in adapting to corporate style of working.
Corporates as in existence today believe in policies, systems, rules and declared methods. Designers believe in flexibility, intuition, out of the box thinking as a norm and consider methods as personal. In my opinion they form poor corporate citizens. They have to deal with the following 6 work style demands if they have to succeed in corporate setting.
1 Collaborative working
Designers believe in individuality – individuality of insights, ideas and execution – because that gives them and their output the identity. This is against the grain of corporate execution culture where value addition is collective. You pick from where someone leaves and add your value over to reach the most executable solution collectively. This can be between roles, functions or departments. Usually designers are more collaborative with their type and find not their type difficult to deal with. Here, I do not refer to the behavioural attitude of collaboration, rather I talk about the hazard that designers tend to possess through their professional practice that fosters lone, end-to-end working.
2 Designing for scale
With the prevalence of systems that drive operations the corporate functioning is centered around data. Business intelligence and analytics influence decisions. Insights will be most appreciated in small groups, but executable ideas that have large scale impact are usually data driven. The competence of human centric ideation and prototyping shall yield respect for designers, however, their tools, methods and approach in addressing large scale complexity will be in suspect. Functions like marketing, projects, production, support or finance are most likely to confront designers on the merit of their idea. Designers have to learn to respond using the language of data and not of gut or intuition.
3 Love user, Hate market
Given a choice designers prefer “user study” for insights than “market research”. Possibly the chart and graph laden market analysis are considered to be useful for business analysis and not for design. This is untrue. Significant macro insights are extremely important for problem definition. Designers have to integrate insights from users along with market to base a more holistic solution. But, more profoundly designers refuse to accept the fact that market is nothing but a perspective that reflects the collective view of their users they admire to serve.
4 Reporting as a ritual
Corporate functions have embedded distinct business reporting methods as part of their functioning – Sales forecast, Inventory, Cash Flow, etc. Similarly design function needs to embed a reporting that is organisationally relevant. Reporting is a means to communicate execution health and alert possible cross-functional risks. Designers will have to step out of the ‘deadline’ mode of studio operation to enable their method of working being viewed from customer value, cost, timeliness and efficiency like other functions in the organisation.
5 Nuisance of Presenting & Documenting
Designers ignore investment of effort in documenting & presenting their rationale in a consistent manner. I have often found young designers shirk this as an intrusion into their otherwise more satisfying creative pursuit. Corporate actions are driven by priorities. Priorities are set by communication. So, a well-structured and objective business communication is the only way to reach out to people to excite attention and action.
6 Dealing with feedback
A typical business operates on continuous course correction through feedback from market, customers, finance, support, sales, delivery and quality. Not all of these are predictable in terms of content or time. A work day may be a mixed bag of countless such feedbacks exchanged. Great ideas worked with extraordinary passion could face ruthless rejection. Designers who identify themselves with ideas should strive to let their objectivity prevail not to regard business feedback as personal. Corporates will demand extraordinary tolerance to absorb feedback.
Not to say that the organisation of the future will be drastically different and some of these assumptions may not be valid. But, designers who enter corporation of today do not have a choice. Do they?