Design is a very inclusive term many application and software companies use to describe something they need: changes to an existing user experience or a new customer experience.
This article is part of a larger series looking at designers and the design culture found in large organizations. The series will to focus on the application and product design aspect of the term. For now I’ll focus on the designer’s place inside a software-based organization, excluding the hiring of agencies for product branding and marketing.
As a designer who has spent 17 years working both outside and inside enterprise companies, I hope what I’ve learned will be useful for designers and non-designers alike.
When in a large company there are many of ways to introduce design to a company. I’ll outline just a few:
- Creating a strategic structure to create, manage and orchestrate a design group within the entire organization.
- Hiring designers on a per-product basis. This gives the power to individual business units in structuring and allotting designers/teams that fit their business goals.
- Hiring externally and using agencies, firms or individuals usually tasked for a specific design need. These engagements can be short- or long-term depending on how symbiotic the relationship becomes.
- Bringing in individual contractors at any level of the organization. These are usually short-term hires since most companies have time restrictions, but that does not preclude companies from trying to convert them to full-time employees.
There are a couple places you find design challenges in an organization: One is the introduction of a design language or system into an organization. The other is with the maturity of the design leadership. Will they cascade the new design and its guidelines through the organization? As a designer this is where you have to start reading between the lines. Every organization has its own “issues.” Apple, Google, or any given startup will have their own and it important to be able to interpret those issues in order to see if it’s a good fit for you and your company.
If you look to define “design” you’ll see the words like intention, plan and goal, among many others. I love that these words all imply design is an evolving concept. Whether it be how a steering wheel is made to provide a certain feel in your hands or the latest fashion trend for tweens, design will continue to be a moving target that will change just has it has always done. Kirby Ferguson has covered the details of design evolution, so I won’t get into that here.
We’re evolving. Design is evolving. It’s all a plan that is constantly changing. So what the heck does that have to do with you, the experiences I’ve had in my design career and now in the enterprise space? Well as it turns out, a lot.
Regardless of being in the consumer or enterprise space, companies are folly to one big area. You guessed it: design. This touchy-feely plan no one can measure (well, we kind of can) is what organizations are constantly trying to evolve in hopes of capturing a part of the cultural zeitgeist. Just like you and me, they are in various states of intention at any given level. Each organization has its own emotional state with regard to its issues and how these issues impact its design and culture.
Application design uses the marrying of functional and creative concepts together to create a unique user experience. Companies that are design-driven should focus on letting design and customer feedback drive the main metrics that drive their experience. Traditional organizations use design as a reactive/supporting tool to help answer questions on the functional design or driven by customer request. Think of it more of a proactive/reactive approach to crafting an experience. To be a design-driven organization, there needs to be some confidence in leadership focused on CX. This isn’t something that’s always part of an org. And some feel that the investment at the high-level is not warranted, but that’s beginning to change.
That brings me to where you fit in. Just like the company where you work or where you are applying for a job, you have your own design and emotional evolution happening (whether you realize it or not). Ensuring both you and the company are happy in that current or future union is tricky business. You’re making a lot of assumptions after getting the green light. And just like any interpersonal relationship in life, your relationship with your job is going to have you dealing with a variety of personalities and emotions.
Design. It’s a plan, and an intention. Everyone is designing something. Our personal lives have some sort of plan that could be entwined with our job plans. Some plans are bigger than others; some are waiting (or hoping) to be big; and others have nothing to do with our nine-to five-job. With all that comes passion, money and attitude. Let’s start digging into how emotional output effects design culture.
Stay tuned for the next part in the series… Designing in a Large Enterprise Company, Part 2: Your emotional state of design.