A Mission for Design

I was invited to say a few off-the-cuff words at a design offsite for a Well Established Company where they were making a mission for their design team. I decided I was sick of ppt, and wrote out a few index cards instead. Here they are.

Design is a plan for making

Design is done by everybody– not just designers!

As we used to say in art school, you are a special unique person, just like everybody else

Great things are not designed alone (very often). A design takes engineers to design architecture, product people to design goals and functionality, and it takes money to build a site so maybe along the way someone designed business model… great design takes a village! So:


Your superpower: so if design is done by a ton of people, what does “design” bring to the table? Is it user centered-ness? No, that’s research. Is it team coordination? No, that’s Product management.


But before you give up, I’m going to tell you what design can do no one else can. And it’s not making stuff pretty.


You can:

Envision the vision. What? Too confusing? Let me try again.

You can make abstract ideas:

Tangible. What do you mean, so what? If we let engineers make stuff tangible, we’ll have to wait while they get it all scalable and stuff  and that could be weeks (shhh, you agile guys in the corner).  Seriously, you can probably sketch faster than they can code.

This is important.

Once an idea is tangible, everything changes.

Tangible means it’s

Evaluable: We can talk all day about the front page being a single picture, or a giant “buy now” button, but until we see it, we can’t really understand it. We are humans. We are visual beings.

Communicable: like a disease. No! Wait… You can take the design to a VC, and they can start thinking about funding, or a CEO, and they can start thinking about funding, because suddenly your idea seems real.  There is a reason people say “I’ll know it when I see it.”  And now marketing can sell it, and support can write FAQ’s, etc etc.

Buildable: after all, design is a plan for making. It’s easy to write code for something when you know how it looks and behaves.


But even better:

Tangible is an excellent lie for change.

Sorry for the handwriting. And obscure-ness. Let me try again.

Design is like science fiction. There is a great book by Nathan Shedroff which points out how science fiction has shown us how the future can be, to the point we copy it. Palm Pilots and iphones look like Star Trek tricorders.

And design can draw pictures of future products, which, once made visible, seems obvious to build. Dave Shen, a designer at Yahoo, designed My Yahoo before any of the tech was built… or even requested. Once we see it, we believe it can be done.

As well

Design unifies teams, visions, direction.


Let me ‘splain you.

Picture a chair?  Do you see a hard wood dining chair, or  comfy overstuffed lounge-y chair?


Once you draw it, everyone can see and say “yes” or “not what I was thinking.”  Once drawn, we all see the same thing.


OK, topic change:

You are not a “designer”

You are a person who designs.

Why does that matter? Many designers are afraid to step into new roles for fear they are no longer a designer. For fear they are losing who they are. But I say, design can be used everywhere.  You can be a person who:

Designs products

Designs experiences (remember when we moved  into “User Experience Designer?” It just sounds so lovely and expensive…)

Designs a place for design.

When I became a manager, I realized I was no longer designing things, I was designing a situation. Or maybe designing a possibility. But I was designing. I was designing a place where great design could happen.


When I started my own company, I became a person who designs business models

and even designs companies. In fact, you could be a person who

Designs the future!


And now an addendum, Advice from a Product Manager.

Right before the talk, I pinged the best one I know. I said, I’m going to talk to designers. What would you tell them?

“Remind me of the big picture. Sometimes I’m so deep in specs and numbers, I forget. ”

“You are 1/3rd of the Product Leadership team. It’s product management, engineering and you against the world.”

See they don’t hate you.

“Ask for data. If you aren’t getting your daily blue pill of data, fire the PM. ”

“80% if ok.”  I know this one is hard for you, but wait…

“when you see outcomes appear, dial up to 95%”

i.e. don’t try to get it perfect on the first try. Prototype, sketch and then when it’s working, you can be pixel-perfect.


Make great things happen

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