When I began the first year of my MBA program at a well-known business school, a Facebook was still a real book, printed on paper.
In it, each of us was given a chance to introduce ourselves to our future classmates with a headshot, hometown and three lines of text. Many of my peers used these lines to boast of patents or investment bank experience or perfect GMAT scores. As an undergraduate journalism major and then a marketing manager, I wasn’t typical B-school material and was blissfully ignorant. I used one of my three lines to proudly proclaim how I was voted Most Creative by my high school class. When I first opened our Facebook and compared my listing to everyone else’s, I was so ashamed. All I had to offer was creativity? And I thought that mattered?
Fast forward 15 years. I now work at a design firm as the Director of Business Design, a title I created for myself. One could say I am still a bit out of step among my 60 peers, three-quarters of whom are traditional design professionals — industrial designers, UX designers, mechanical engineers, etc. But in my post-MBA working years, I’ve come to understand one thing: while we believe that business and design speak completely different languages, they don’t. They just use different vocabularies. I wasn’t the foreigner I thought I was in business school. It just took me a while to learn to translate.
Fortunately, I graduated from business school bilingual. I can speak user experience and prototypes as well as value proposition and financial models. You can, too, and without getting an MBA. Why? Business people are designers too. They just use different language and different tools. But the goal is the same—to create the most desirable, most relevant product possible.
Let me show you two of the many ways in which business people and design people use nearly identical tools and measures.
A sketch is worth…exactly one scenario
Designers sketch. Whether they consider themselves good at it or not is irrelevant. Almost universally, sketching is the way designers get ideas out of their heads and into the open. Business people are famously horrible artists. But like a “real” designer, they take an idea and make it real by creating a scenario — something that is not drawn in pencil with lines and curves but with assumptions, constraints and calculations that give the idea a tangible form.
We believe that business and design speak completely different languages. They don’t. They just use different vocabularies.
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