Everybody is talking about design, creativity & entrepreneurship

I wrote this in 06, December, 2005. And with such topics it rears its ugly head again. I’ve updated and reposted it with ping backs to relevant blogs.

The term “Design” is truly the in-thing theses days everybody is talking about it and how they are and are not related! Together with creativity and entrepreneural employees, its become the new management buzz word and most people are all over the place trying to jump on the band wagon. For the right and wrong reasons.

mgt_themes.jpg
Source: Les Wynn, DMI 2000

Check out a graphic I got from the Design Management Journal about the new new in organisation management trends.

But my question who are these people and what have they done that qualifies them to teach design, creativity or entrepreneurship?
In the same spirit of this his blog, my question to you is ask yourself what are they really talking about? Are they designers talking about design? Are they entrepreneures talking about entrepreneurship? Are they talking about design or just about creativity? As I’m a designer, lets focus on my speciality.

There is a lot of growing evidence that the term “design” or “designer” is used to in a all too generic manner. This results in a lot of suspicious activities that even famous names are guilty off.

1) Is this design or really creative management?
I nearly fell off my chair when i found out that Tom Peters, a well know management guru, is also telling designers how to be designers, when he is not even a designer himself! This again is creative management and change strategy?

Tom Peters on Design49
Prepared for the Better by Design Conference in Auckland, New Zealand, March 2005.

Dont get me wrong, I’m a big fan of Tom and a big inspiration in my growth as a manager, but this is like saying “Well I currently have a licence to drive a car so I can definitly drive a truck!” I feel sad that even him is jumping of the “design” band wagon rather than staying true to his creative management work.

2) Is this design or really creative thinking?
After reading about Innovation vs Design at businessweek online, I was further intrigue about the general and liberal use of the word “design” and how its being intermingled or used interchangeably with “innovation”.

At the recent IDF 2005, here in Singapore even the branding people are jumping on board. Jez Frampton from Interbrand indicated how “firms want to revolutionises by turning design oriented”. I asked my self, even companies that dont sell products? Maybe its just me, but I have associated design with something tangiable like products or logos not services! The presentation went on to describe how every aspect of the communications strategy is “designed” including the way you answer the phone. I suppose if you put it that way, you could “design” a way to answer the phone.
I was slightly shocked when i read that design is really used to describe non-tangible things like processes. In Innovation is the New Black, Michael Bierut wrote:

“The new stars of design work on rather nebulous, intangible things such as services and business models. They collaborate, so it’s difficult to see where their authorship begins and ends. And their arrival has caused toxic shock to the design world, resulting in an awful lot of bad feeling.”

As an example:

There was a big outcry when the Council gaved an award to Hilary Cottam for her work in applying design principles to solving problems in health care and prisons. And Vicky Richardson, editor of Blueprint, has said that what people such as Cottam and Thackara do is strategic planning and should not be confused with design. ‘Calling it that reflects the fact that design is very popular. It suggests to me an aspiration to be a certain kind of creative.’

Ooh what a high brow but interesting statement!

If you want to talk about “Design and Strategy” it has been around for a long time, and we all know “Good design is good business”. Refering the the chart at the top again, the companies like Nike who deploy it on a strategic decision making level are winning in todays consumer product race. It is this move from “Design” as being just surface aesthetics, to strategic design that I thinking is causing the confusion. This different positioning of design thinking towards a more holistic level is what I would define as the innovation part.

The other confusiing part comes from the nature of organisations, when you need “titles” to define your job scope, as I’ve not heard of “Innovation Executive” (cool title eh?), design managers have been the traditional facilitators of strategic design in the board room. So when a non-designer jumps onboard, designers get a little defensive and start to protect their turf. (Like me vs Tom eh?)

3) Is this design or really innovation?
Continuing from Innovation is the New Black Michael Bierut nicely summed up this debate:

…although innovation is always good, it isn’t always effective. “We all know that reliable methods of innovation are becoming important to business as they realize that 96% of all innovation attempts fail to meet their financial goals…But thank goodness, a solution is at hand: “Business leaders are increasingly looking to design to not just help, but lead their innovation processes.” So we come full circle. Don’t say design, say innovation, and when innovation doesn’t work, make sure you saved some of that design stuff, because you’re going to need it.

Innovation is a strategy. Design is one of the possible tactical out comes of this strategy. Lets not confuse the two.

4) Is this design or confusion?
I agree with Niblettes, on the fact that design is starting to come to the forefront as an accepted profession, skill and capabilities. But we need to define what it means, and in particular we should call a profession for what it is. Call it my pragmatic self, but if we are going to be a respected profession such as a doctor, lawyer or accountant we need to some how find a way to name or classify the design profession correctly. If the design profession continues to be associated with some fluffy airy job scope, its going to be difficult to relate it to tangible aspects like money, or how much a design is worth, or ultimatly how much we should be paid as designers.

In conclusion design is just like entrepreneurship, it is a contact sport. People are always suspicious of arm chair critics and what they say, would you therefore actually pay money to learn from one?

. .

Brian Ling

Brian is the Founder and Design Director at Design Sojourn, a Design Led Innovation Consultancy. He is a multi-award winning design leader, and specialises in strategic design and innovation programs that drive successful organisations. Brian’s 20-year career in design, driven through a deep understanding of human behavior, spans over multiple domains such as consumer electronics, government, healthcare, non-profit agencies, hospitality, F&B, retail, online solutions and best in class service experiences.

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