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Industrial Design

How you can help design succeed

February 17, 2020

Over the years, there have been designers still young in their careers that have come to me looking for advice and ideas of what to do next. They’ve all told me their tales of woe about how design is just not respected or understood where they work. And this, of course, coincides with their (and design’s) struggle to find a solid footing within the organization.

Within those conversations I’ve heard much of the same language…why don’t they understand design? Why do they have me doing their PowerPoints? How do I tell them that’s not what I do?! If you’re reading this, then there’s a chance you’ve experienced or even said something similar. And while it’s true, some organizations really are clueless when it comes to hiring and utilizing designers to their potential and they are easy to blame. But I’d bet that it’s more than likely that you — the designer — is the one that needs to change, not them.

The truth hurts. But what hurts more is not taking a different approach and then finding yourself making the same complaints years later, perhaps even at a different job. I did that for a while until after enough beatings, I figured it out.

So, what can a designer do?

Like every other role in a company, getting things done means knowing the politics of the place and knowing how to build relationships with the people who can help propel your cause. It means learning how to sell yourself and the value of your profession. And it means simply being good to work with. This is no different from an accountant to a designer — it’s just a little easier for the accountant to show their value since they directly handle the money.

Moving forward, I’ll be speaking rather specifically to industrial design, however the parallels across all the creative crafts and disciplines are pretty much the same.

During a recent coffee conversation on the topic, I broke it all down to three key points. To put into click-bait terms: Just do these three things and design will succeed at your company!

Celebrate your technical counterparts – the engineers

I’ve given a few talks to students and professionals alike that illustrate the importance of a symbiotic engineer/designer relationship. A designer’s true value is in defining the product to meet unmet user needs, and therefore advocating for the user. Along with cost considerations and getting it out the door on time, your technical partner wants to make that thing work and work well for a long time, which also fits into that user needs equation. 

Where the designer plants their flag in the future vision of the product, the engineer has to deal with the now of solving the problems it will take to get it to the finish line. This creates a lot of creative tension and misunderstanding that can get in the way, but when you keep their goals in mind and find ways meet them in the middle, that creative tension can be harnessed for a better solution in the end.

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Remember that design is not about you. At all. Ever. Get over it.

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