Thinking about Design!

I was cleaning up and recycling some notebooks that I had used to capture impressions I was gathering at various design conferences and other design events last year. Below are a random sampling!

> In a siloed company, how do you organize your design resources and deployment?

> How do you knit a suite of existing services and those in development into a connected integrated system of services?

> I read that the drivers of motivation are autonomy, competence, and relatedness but all need a supportive environmental model

> Though the world of human experience is indeed being transformed from analog to digital is digital experience, in most cases, simply a portal to enhanced analog or real world experience? Is it a gateway experience that provides access to accelerated life?

> Quick wins are a bottom-up approach to progress. Strategy is a top-down approach. Can you be strategic from the bottom up through the right suite of quick wins?

> What are the elements of the business case that grounds your UX proposal?

> An ROI model that is built around three elements… the perceptual, financial, and operational. Customer or Patient Satisfaction, Direct Revenue, and Employee Efficiency and Effectiveness.

> Strategy is about marshalling the resources to go from your current state to a (desired?) future state.

> When customers are moving along their journey with a company, and transitioning from acquisition to conversion, by “adopting” a product or service, what is the evidence of this evolution and how do we recognize it and act on it?

> Charles Eames said that “recognizing the need is the primary condition for design”.

> If you want to be a UX Strategist fall in love with the problem, not the solution” -Janika Kumar, Microsoft (at UX Strat)

> I am what I share… social media’s role in the establishment and maintenance of identity

> I contribute therefore I matter.

> Social Service Design, inspired by a design-led intervention, requires the involvement and commitment of local user citizens.

Strategic Design Management in 250 Floors or Less

The following article was first published 13 years ago. I am not convinced that despite this being the age of design thinking and the associated high profile of design in business that things have really changed much! What do you think?


Recent (2002!) research into the extent to which design management is being offered as a consulting service offered up some interesting (and perhaps disappointing) insights. Virtually no consultancies (PARK being the exception) that provide design-related services include “design management” as a specific competency that has been articulated into a set of services. Although one would think there is a market opportunity here for an enterprising agency to differentiate itself from the competition, the evidence shows that for those who have tried it hasn’t been easy and it won’t get any easier any time soon.

Among the reasons offered by the consultants interviewed was that clients or potential clients don’t have a clear understanding of what design management is. Those who have tried in the past to establish a design management service and communicate its potential value to their clients have faced an uphill service marketing battle. The all important elevator pitch, communicating the essence of the proposition in 30 seconds or less, or approximately 10 floors, proves a formidable challenge! These challenges become more formidable when the form of design management being envisioned is elevated to a higher level, the formidable beast known as strategic design management.

Part 1

Why call it a formidable beast? Well let’s just take a look at the phrase ‘strategic design management’. It is constructed of three words that in and of themselves can have professionals from three fields debating the depth and breadth of their meanings for at least the length of several weekend conferences! For example, Mintzberg discusses 10 schools of strategy in Strategy Safari. Management consultants and gurus offer new schools of management every season. And design? As John Heskett in Toothpicks & Logos likes to say, “Design is to design a design to produce a design”. The words combine into a dizzying lexicon of terms: design, strategic design, design strategy, design management, strategic design management. The conceptual complexities become even more daunting when we bring marketing into the mix.

Much of the literature on the subject urges that design management is most effective when user-, consumer- and customer-focused. From the strategic management point of view, customer-focused differentiation effected through design can be a source of competitive advantage. From the user-centered design and customer-centered marketing point of view, market-based practices can be developed that inform the strategy formation process, especially in the transition from planned to emergent strategy. This systematic production of design information can support the creation and iteration of all customer interactions manifested in the design of products, services, environments, and communications. It is the vast scope of this holistic inclusiveness that provides one of the largest challenges to converting principles of strategic design management into a set of valuable consulting services that doesn’t require a firm the size of McKinsey to support.

Part 2

Probably the single most influential factor in determining the types of consulting services potentially required by a company is the organizational context of the prospective client. Since strategic design management, to be effective, requires an organization with the strategy and operations to make it work, the nature of consulting engagements will vary according to the extent of design’s infusion into the client organization and the level from which the contracts originate. It can also depend on factors such as culture, size, nature of the business, and on the internal resources and competences the client has at its disposal. Organizations in which design is an integral part of corporate or business strategy tend to have the following characteristics:

  • Design is viewed as a strategic resource valued as a tool of Strategy and managed strategically
  • Strategy and Design are represented and managed at each level of the organization
  • Strategy and Design are enterprise-wide activities and each level of the organization has the requisite business and design knowledge to effectively manage and be productive
  • Organizational structure supports vertical and horizontal integration and coordination of activities of people, practices, and processes in the pursuit of strategic objectives
  • Organizations plan and manage multiple channels of interaction with customers
  • Design and marketing, as tools of strategy, are pivotal in integrating customer experience through all points of contact

Each of the values described above will vary depending on the unique context of each client organization. The degree to which any of these factors are present in an organization will in all likelihood determine the type of engagements external consultants might have. It will also determine the degree of strategic impact the work of external consultants will have in the client organization.

Part 3

Because the range of services offered by current consultancies is finite, focused on implementation, and carried out by functional specialists, they cannot be expected to solve all of the strategic needs of large client organizations that interface with internal and external customers through multiple channels and points of contact. Even firms that include strategy in their range of competencies use it to drive implementation. In other words, the strategy is purely tactical and directly related to a project.

Most of the interviewed consultancies offering design-related services are still hired by their clients on a per-project basis. This tactical employment of design means that consultants find it difficult to influence the development of the client organizations’ emerging strategies. In addition, many clients have not yet developed integrated enterprise-wide strategies for the use and management of design. Corporate design objectives are not communicated to consultants before they begin their work, further hampering their ability to include themselves in a process of strategic design management. As such, the involvement in strategy formation as opposed to only strategy implementation may distinguish strategic design management consulting from traditional design consulting.

A unique quality of strategic design management is its ability to manage Design to the point that it is a source of sustainable competitive advantage, no matter what the organizational context, no matter what the design need. There is potentially a market for a new model of consulting services, divorced from specialist design outputs, the goal of which is to help organizations manage Design as a critical element of strategic management. The service could be designed to have a universally scalable application to any organization large or small and facilitate the optimal outcome from any of the numerous design implementation specialists available to companies. In such a scenario, strategic design management consultants will need to be design generalists and management specialists in order to adapt to the unique and specific needs of each organizations context and requirements.

There is great diversity in the consulting industry, with consultants being found in almost every field of professional practice. Management consulting has been simply described as the identification, diagnosis, and resolution of business issues and is very often employed by firms to help in the areas of strategy, operations, and information technology. Might we then say that strategic design management consulting is concerned with the management of design in the identification, diagnosis, and resolution of business issues that are of strategic importance to an organization? As short and sweet as this is, it may still not be enough to help an innovative service market launch communicate its value in 10 (let alone 250) floors or less.

Published originally by the Design Management Institute in April 2003 as part of their eBulletin series.

Classic Design Management Books to Inspire the Strategic Designer in All of Us!


Over the course of every design practitioners career there are days when one comes across authors and their books that act as intellectual catalysts to spark new ways of thinking about how one approaches design. I’d like to introduce you to three such books on the subject of design management…all with one thing in common. They are co-authored (with other colleagues) by Rachel Cooper and Margaret Bruce. These are not new books, with publishing dates ranging from 1995 to 2002 but their message is still potently relevant today. I suggest that they are ideal primers to inspire the strategic designer in all of us. I also believe that they are fundamental to any business strategist trying to understand how to better incorporate design into driving business innovation and to any strategic design manager seeking to drive the design organization that will underpin it.

Designerly Ways of Knowing and Thinking


If you have ever struggled to explain why design thinking is important, why it is different than other forms of thinking, I can recommend you read “Designerly Ways of Thinking” by Nigel Cross. Since the 1970’s Professor Cross has investigated the evidence for design cognition as an essential aspect of human intelligence and whether design can stand as a third “coherent discipline of study” alongside the sciences and humanities. To avoid being subsumed by these, he suggests that Design needs to establish clear insights into the nature of design activity, behavior and cognition.

Service Safari @ Continuum


The Continuum service design team ended our year with a series of short Service Safaris where we set out in small teams, pith helmets in hand, to immerse ourselves as customers in a range of what we perceived to be interesting service businesses. Apart from treating ourselves at the end of the year, the Safaris were intended to inspire by exposing us in a personal way to the qualities of great services.

Our teams investigated a diverse range of services including an innovative new barbershop concept, a tarot reading, a restaurant reservation service, a digitally enhanced private taxi service, and a sneaker customization service. I was part of a four-person team that indulged in the latest of barbershop care. It was a tough assignment but the four of us were up to the challenge of straight-razor shaves, massaging shampoos, layered and buzz cuts, hot face towels, and shoulder massages.

Consistency and multi-touchpoint experience design

A blog on the topic “Consistency and multi-touchpoint experience design” has been posted on

One of the guiding design principles for creating a positive user experience has been the consideration of consistency as a critical attribute of the experience.

Designers have evolved the principle within the context of the design of single touchpoint interfaces such as software applications or ecommerce Web sites.

However, the challenges of designing integrated multi-touchpoint digital, physical and hybrid user experiences delivered via mobile, Web and software warrant a fresh look at how design teams apply consistency – and just as importantly – ignore it.

Read it all here……

Service Design Thinking and the Innovation of Financial Services, Part 2


In a recent blog in response to the excellent 2010 book entitled “Service Design Thinking” (Stickdorn/Schneider 2010) I noted that this was the first qualifier of design thinking, as least as I had witnessed at the time, that spoke to how design thinking might be applied to a specific design practice. I also noted that the sky was the limit as to how design practitioners could take design thinking tools and methods and apply them to their own area of practice. “Service Design Thinking” does an excellent job of just this mash-up. The key elements of an integrated service design and design thinking approach to the creation of new business service/product interactions can be outlined as follows:

  • Empathy with customers
  • Ideation / Co-creation
  • Service Journey over time and space/place
  • Service/Experience mapping
  • Prototyping
  • Concept validation / Co-creation
  • Objective requirements
  • Prioritization and road-mapping

There is a growing recognition amongst financial institutions around the world that differentiating the banking experience is a way to attract new and retain current customers. Many of these initiatives are the product of partnerships with leading design innovation agencies such as Ideo, Continuum, and others. Because of this, the new initiatives are benefitting from design thinking approaches that practice the best practices outlined above.

The following are a small collection of examples of various financial institutions across the globe engaging with design firms to help them take fresh looks at old habits. I do not have proof that all of these endeavors followed the best practices described above, but warrant that many if not all did do so!

Service Design Thinking and the Innovation of Financial Services, Part 1


Recent turmoil in the financial services industry has lead many consumers to question how they manage their financial lives, both now and for the long-term.  The global recession has compounded the sense of unease consumers feel about entrusting financial services providers with managing and safeguarding the financial fruit of their labors. Trust is at an all-time low.

Trends emerging show consumers are looking for alternative ways to manage their finances, whether through new tools or completely new institutions. In addition, consumers are practicing a frugality that is inspired by a fear of loss of long-term hard-earned assets, leading to a more risk-averse society than has existed for the last decade or so. A recent article in the Boston Globe (10/16/2011 “Gen Y asks: ‘Why should I have faith in the stock market’”) reveals that Generation Y, those born between 1981 and 1995, are displaying a conservative investment profile more akin to someone in their late 50’s considering retirement than someone in their youth with more than 30 years of investing to level out their buy and hold approach.

Know your verbs! Building lasting relationships between businesses and people


As a user/brand experience design strategist I often rely on the structure and flow of the customer experience lifecycle as a way to create a personalized language that may be used to inspire fresh ideas for new products, services and communications. The lifecycle can be used to tap into emotional contexts within which consumers, customers, and users might be motivated to engage with and finding meaning in these same products, services and communications. The language may start simply with Attract, Convert, and Retain but within that framework a designer may also wish to Inspire, Inform, and Connect…for instance. The language should be recognizable as a shared language between the customer and the brand…both can instantly relate to it because it speaks to the goals and needs and forms of personal expression of both.

The language of experience is very much an action language…dominated by verbs, because, as a songwriter friend of mine once wrote, “Actions! Actions make things happen!” The language of experience is also very much the language of relationship-building. The value and success of most digital interactions today is measured by the how often and how deeply users do some or all of the following verb actions…

Are designers losing design strategy to business strategists learning design thinking?


One of the early and simplest aspirations of those in the design community who feel that design can and should play a role in the formation and realization of business strategy is that design not simply be used in a tactical, ad hoc fashion…later in the process of bringing a product to market…just to add aesthetics and make something look good. Over the years there have been enough market success stories to allow for this expanded role. Many companies would even describe themselves as design-driven. This has expanded the role of the designer and design strategist.

However, when design has succeeded in making its way up the strategy ladder to have a more front-end role, communication between business strategists and design strategists has not always been the smoothest. Separate left and right brains have not always easily been able to produce a shared creativity. The language is not the same. The thinking is not the same.

I have always advocated that the best-case scenario driving innovation by design is the designer as design thinker who can move up the process to become a business thinker and naturally integrate the two. Why? Because the designer cannot just designthink but can also designdo and is in a great position to translate the strategy into action by producing a design. I like the designer as strategic designer!