Design is Valued. Now What?

by Luke Wroblewski February 22, 2015

From an outsourced last step to the forefront of strategy, the value of design has undergone a transformation in the software industry. Today's UI designers have a new set of challenges born of increased pressure and expectations.

Given the perceived value of design in today's software industry, many companies are putting it at the top of their agenda. They want designers to deliver the impact they see in design-centric organizations: higher margins, devoted customers, and an innovative product pipeline. It's an expectation of product leadership and significant impact.

But because these are big goals, they require big changes. It's not enough to simply hire a good designer and proceed with business as usual. Companies that deliver great design have cultures that make it happen. Though many companies want the value design delivers at Apple, are they willing or able to change their culture so dramatically?

When a designer joined a meeting at Apple it was “like being in church when the priest walks in.” -Robert Brunner
"Samsung wrote check after check to countless design firms to develop future products for the company. Samsung management would either discard the idea entirely, or water it down so much that the product became another meaningless SKU." -Why Samsung Design Stinks

Just hiring designers doesn't make great design happen.

Turning around products, profits, and people is no small task but it's what leadership is about. It takes more than hunkering down at a desk and delivering mock-ups. You need to bring an organization along with you to lead.

This kind of responsibility requires designers to go beyond design. Which often puts them out of their comfort zone. Even the poster child of design leadership, Jony Ive carries his burden heavily.

"he’s uncomfortable knowing that a hundred thousand Apple employees rely on his decision-making" -Jonathan Ive & the Future of Apple

At Samsung and other less design-centric organizations, it's not just decision-making that's needed to move products forward.

"New designs have to make their way through this structure, and managers have to be able to justify their profitability. Designers hired by Samsung often have access to the company's advanced research and development, but they’ll still dream up experiences that are impossible for Samsung to create." -Why Samsung Design Stinks

Just designing doesn't make great design happen either.