Credibility in Design

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Credibility & Design. The word credible, according to Dictionary.com, is an adjective that means “capable of being believed; believable”. The focal point of this article won’t be around the evolution of the Design discipline, but focus specifically how Design these days is branded/tossed across multiple Organizations, at times as a differentiating factor, and what does that actually mean. As usual I’ll use a few of my own professional experiences to sustain some of the points I’m about to expand upon. In the past three years I’ve been involved in two projects, that involved two very different types of organizations: one a small sized type of Organization, with development efforts scattered around the world, and the other, a much larger Organization, with a long history on the market, with development equally distributed around the world. These Organizations have very different cultures and approaches to their internal processes, but the common challenge that I diagnosed, within time, amounted to the same issue: Design was not an equal partner when it came to driving strategy or the direction of the deliverables being deployed into market. In the case of the smaller organization, the challenge existed on multiple levels: though everyone utilized the terms “user experience” and “design centered solutions”, very few actually understood what those meant. Let me rephrase that: “a superior user experience” was translated or a synonym to a redesign of the product interface. This in itself isn’t a terrible problem or disadvantage: one of the Laws of UX does state that users perceive aesthetically pleasing products as more usable ones (the Aesthetic Usability Effect). However, this did surface an important issue: the fact that Design (and its professionals) was still considered in a reductive manner as a discipline, whose sole goal is the establishment of aesthetics. On top of that fallacy, there was also the conviction, that aesthetics is inherently something subjective, therefore Design as a discipline is a minor stakeholder, since ultimately each user and consumer has their own views of what constitutes something aesthetically pleasing or not. This was a mind frame that I took upon myself to demystify, specifically by showcasing and introducing the Design Thinking methodology, leveraging a series of processes, which included research, analytics, market research (competitive analysis, direct and indirect), customer assessment (interviews, surveys, Clustering Qualitative Comments), usability testing, internal audits, team integration, among many others. The goal that I set out to do, was to bring effective credibility to the Design practice, by removing the somewhat pejorative connotation, that Design is restricted to Visual Design exercises, where the concept of “taste” and “instinct” are the core values of the discipline (and this actually ends up tying with the eternal struggle that Design is Art, which in itself is material for another article). I managed to raise the topic of Design as a differentiating factor, when the product did bring new clients into the fold, and when the potential for Accessible, Multicultural, Omnichannel type of solutions started making waves. But it was a lengthy process and a continuously educating one.

The case of the bigger organization was somewhat different. This organization has existed for many years, and has employed Designers to create solutions and products that are inherently distinctive on the market. However, Design is still not an actual partner at the decision table. It’s an organization where Design is seen and driven by a services need, and not as a strategic partner. This pragmatically means, that Designers end up being involved in task driven situations, where the opportunities to understand multiple informational entry points are limited, and where the solutions achieved are at times, less credible due to the lack of exposure to research, users and ultimately metrics that can sustain the decisions being taken. Again, my role in this situation was to serve as a catalyst, and attempt to drive processes anchored on a systematic approach, with all the phases I described earlier, but with a tighter integration with Product Ownership, Development, Customer Support teams, all uncovering issues, opportunities, that could benefit of attention. Again, bringing credibility to Design, and by implication its professionals, implied being able to communicate how the process worked, wha the different steps involved, and what the outcomes would be. A product narrative, where the Designer is the host, but where everyone is a fundamental guest at the table. This process introduction produced a tighter team integration, a product that met with expectations, and that eventually educated the organization on a process anchored on partnership and less on a servile, type of engagement.

Outcomes, Reality Check. The success of technology companies with strong Design practices has of course caused a lust for the same across multiple industries. Everyone craves success, and rightfully so. However, in order for Design to maintain its credibility and ultimately have a long lasting partnership standing with all the other variables in an organization, it has to educate and move past the fiction materialized in sentences such as “designers are artists”, design solutions are “subjective and interface focused” and also “designers have an instinct to figure solutions out”. The Design Thinking process is meant to unify, coalesce and through a series of tasks, allow for better solutions to be created, solutions that satisfy users, but also satisfy business goals that underline the sustainability of any organization (suffice to say, no organization goes into market to deliver products without an intent to generate profit for its owners/shareholders). In order for Design and its professionals to maintain credibility, is fundamental that the myopic view of Design as an art form be abandoned. Design is ultimately a collaborative, all encompassing discipline, which binds multiple sources of information (or data) under a coherent umbrella, with the intent of creating solutions that abide to a series of principles, generating client retention, innovation, profit and sustenance for the organization that has cherished it.

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