Overlap: What is the Overlap Between?

by Luke Wroblewski May 29, 2006

The Overlap retreat this weekend in Asilomar was a captivating gathering of professionals united by their experiences and interest in “merging business practices with design-centric problem solving and customer understanding”.

Tom Mulhern started things off by asking all of us in attendance: “what is the overlap between?” Among a set of increasingly provocative answers the following common themes seemed to emerge:

  1. Design & business
  2. Left & right brain
  3. Multiple disciplines
  4. Cultures (often manifested in objects)
  5. People

My personal response was that the Overlap was the convergence of the equation with the result. To couch that in business and design terms, the “equation” is the development of a business model or strategy. The “result” is the product or service that is designed and built to address that strategy. 3D modeling, rapid prototyping, Web-based applications, and more are bringing the result closer and closer to the equation. Personally, this I why I think design is becoming increasing relevant and important to business strategy.

Over the course of our weekend, however, the Overlap came to be defined by the intersection of design thinking and public service. The group addressed how to apply design processes and values to the integrity of media, the definition of citizenship, critical thinking in education, healthcare, and more. Though I thoroughly enjoyed the discussion and group dynamics around these concepts, I left wondering why we had converged on this particular overlap. Some potential reasons:

  • Public service is better suited to design thinking: a human-centered approach needs to be the focus of public service as profits should be secondary.
  • Public service has a very real and visible need for design: it could be argued that many of our public systems are not working well.
  • Our collective expertise had been applied to the intersection of design and business too frequently (and emotionally) so the Overlap became an opportunity to venture beyond that realm.
  • Designers have a tendency to reframe (and often expand) the scope of problems. As a result, design & business quickly became design & the World.

Irrespective of the “why” behind our direction, I’ll be posting more about the interesting moments and outcomes from Overlap soon.