28 June 2013
Jesse Grimes
Jesse Grimes

Finding inspiration in Design Management

Well-recognized for decades, design management has paved the way in establishing the value of design in business success, through defined practices and an active community of practitioners. What learnings from the field can be applied for design projects in the digital and multi-touchpoint world?

The importance of design to the bottom line is not a new concept. Nearly 30 years ago, marketeer Philip Kottler identified design as being key to competitiveness, and a raft of follow-on studies proved this point. Business performance measures such as share price, profitability, employment and export were all demonstrably higher for companies investing in design, and managing it in a structured way.

However the roots of design management as a practice go back even further. The Design Management Institute is a global organization dedicated to the field, and it was created in 1975. It serves as “… an international authority on design management with members in 49 countries. The Institute conducts research, publishes a quarterly magazine, produces teaching cases with the Harvard Business School, provides career advancement workshops, and produces professional and academic conferences.”

But what is design management, and what does it entail?

Design management: Some definitions

A report looking at design management as it’s practiced in Europe provides this helpful definition: “As a professional field, design management focuses on a complex of all visual manifestations of companies, brands and products. As well as on non-visual aspects relating to the design process as such, or to processes for product development, production, distribution, sales, delivery or service. Another explicit objective comprises the creation of synergy between the creative realm and the business realm.”

The broad remit and influence of design management as suggested by that definition – touching many aspects of a company’s operations, and not simply concerning itself with the appearance of an end product – implies a complex field. And indeed it is, touching on operational issues through to strategic ones.

Wikipedia provides a further definition of design management, recognizing its role at the intersection of design, organization and market. And – hearteningly for those of us practicing UX and CX – user experience is placed at the core of a diagram which positions design management alongside design activities and corporate management:


Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Dm-definition.pdf

Design management meets service design

With the birth of design management closely tied to product design, it’s perhaps no surprise that the first definition quoted above – “design management focuses on […] companies, brands and products” – omits a crucial word, and one which describes the projects we at Informaat work on each day: Services.

With the repositioning of both companies and entire economies towards services rather than products, where does this leave design management?

To be sure, design management has recognized this shift. Tied closely to service design, service design management is a subset of the field: “[While] design management traditionally focuses on the design and development of manufactured products; service design managers can apply many of the same theoretical and methodological approaches.2

Finding common ground in a shared deliverable

At Informaat, our work often faces many of the same considerations and challenges that design management addresses. While keeping the customer experience considerations at the core, we design digital services that are delivered across multiple touchpoints, not just one. This means that projects can be many times more challenging than a single-channel service, or a standalone product. Stakeholders must be brought on board, efficiency and re-use opportunities found to streamline development, and orchestration carried out for service delivery on these various touchpoints.

A recent study from the design management world turned up an interesting result, tying a key aspect of our approach to that used by the design managers across many companies.

Prototypes are a central component of our design philosophy; they allow us to ‘fail sooner to succeed faster’. By prototyping a service at several levels of fidelity, and for several touchpoints if required, we can identify risks, obtain management buy-in, and validate designs early on in a project.

In a survey of 45 design managers across 37 companies, researchers discovered something which bolsters our own approach. They started by focussing on “mediation objects” used by these design managers: “Since designers produce, as part of their daily activities numerous types of “mediation objects”, it seemed interesting to see how these objects were used beyond their main role in the development process: are they tools of negotiation with the marketing or R&D departments, are they used to push designer’s convictions up in the hierarchy etc.”3

And the outcome? It was indeed prototypes that delivered the most value: “Of all the tools used by the designers, prototypes and intermediary objects clearly stood out as making the greatest contribution to strategy creation.4

A source for further inspiration?

For ourselves, our clients, and anyone else involved in the delivery of services via digital touchpoints, there remains comparatively little in terms of established practices, documentation and deliverables, never mind an engaged academic community discussing theoretical issues, educational opportunities and well-established conferences.

So despite our focus on digital touchpoints for services (as opposed to a primary focus on products), an intriguing question arises: What are the lessons that we can learn from design management?

Sources and references

1. The incorporation of design management in today’s business practices: An analysis of design management practices in Europe” (.pdf) (Gert L. Kootstra, MBM Centre for Brand, Reputation and Design Management, 2009, InHolland University of Applied Sciences, Rotterdam)

2. Service Design Management (Wikipedia)

3. “What do you think of this? How design practice shapes companies’ strategy” (in Nicolas Minvielle, Benoit Thieulin, “Leading Innovation Through Design” 2012 International Design Management Research Conference proceedings, p.811, Boston August 2012)

4. Ibid.

About the author

Jesse Grimes is an editor of the Service Design Network’s journal Touchpoint, and has twelve years experience as an interaction designer and consultant, now specializing in service design. He has worked in London, Copenhagen, Dusseldorf and Sydney, and is now based in The Netherlands with Dutch design agency Informaat.

Design (23), Design thinking (16), User-centered design (13), UX management (13)