Design Globalization: Part 2

by Luke Wroblewski December 16, 2006

Part two of Design Globalization: a conversation aabout the impact of large scale global changes, outsourcing, and international design training/firms on design and designers (be sure to check out part one first).

Luke Wroblewski Niti, so what I hear you saying is that the overlaps between business, technology, and people are increasing and that these broader overlaps are at least partially responsible for the greater impact of change found in today's global economy. Because there's more of an overlap between people and the technology they use -always on/always with you mobile phones and "infinite" memory via personal computers to name a few- any change in technology more quickly and directly impacts people. Likewise for technology and business and for business and people.

This increasing flux -which I'm defining as an increasing rate of impactful change on business, technology, and people caused by any one of the three- has an obvious impact on business strategy. To put it quite simply: the strategies of many businesses are in an ever-present state of flux. Things change frequently, and the impact of those changes is felt quickly. For me, this signifies why design and designers are becoming increasingly important to business strategy. To succeed today, many companies need to be able to:

  1. Make sense of an increasingly complex market (especially one that is in a constant state of flux)
  2. React and adapt quickly (learn to function within a state of flux)
  3. Become increasingly aware of context (both cultural and temporal)

Design can help accomplish these goals:

  1. As Niti mentioned, an inherent ability to recognize patterns enables designers to find relationships within the flux and their storytelling skills (visual communication and metaphor) allow them to communicate those patterns and their meaning to others.
  2. Rapid prototyping and a "design is never done" philosophy make the design process well suited to react and adapt quickly to changing markets. Bruce Sterling articulated why design is always in a state of flux in Shaping Things: "People are time bound entities transiting from cradle to grave. Any 'solved problem' that involves human beings solves a problem whose parameters must change through time. A thing is no more stable than the humans who cherish it. Properly understood, a thing is not merely a material object, but a frozen technosocial relationship.” With globalization we also need to consider global technosocial relationships whose parameters shift when viewed though the lens of culture.
  3. The right design answer is always: "it depends". Context determines the right technosocial relationship for people at any given time. As Richard Farson put it : "Designers ... create situations. (environments, forms, rituals, experiences, relationships, systems) and situations are far more determining of human behavior than are character, personality, habit, genetics, etc. Nobody smokes in church, no matter how addicted."

It's the last point about context that particularly interests me. As a designer and visual communicator, for me context is always king. But how do I address continually shifting context in a highly networked global economy? Is the answer more or less control? Open systems that enable multiple dynamic situations or closed system with clearly defined experiences?

Joseph O'Sullivan Let me first take one of Dirk’s points in defining Globalization: “creating a culturally and geographically diverse knowledge workforce” and couple it with Luke’s question concerning understanding the shifting context of a networked economy. Here I believe lies the opportunity for Design. Designers will be able to understand the shifting context by embracing the diverse knowledge workforce of other Designers around the world. Who better, other than an end user, to offer insights on a Design intended for a specific region or country, than another designer in that location? I am involved in many more conversations regarding the growing concern around the off shoring and near shoring of design jobs than I am on how our industry as a whole is going to gain from the movement.

My exposure to Designers in Asia has always been very encouraging. Their desire to embrace a user centered design approach is tremendous. This implies more products centered on user need/desire, driving bottom-line growth on a global scale has the potential to shine on a brand new light on the value of our discipline around the world. Our ability to leverage the success of this work will make a difference for our profession, our clients, and the consumers who use them.

Being a realist, that success is going to take some effort. If you took “the red pill, Neo” that opened your eyes to a User Centered Design approach, Globalization offers a complexity in your work that you might not have signed on for. It’s hard enough keeping track of the 2-3 personas for the U.S. release of your product, now add a 30-year housewife in Berlin. How will we judge your global success? Shall we use the Hasslehoff measure? You’re really, really big in Germany, but nowhere else --- will that be good enough? Don't think so. Get one country right before you move to another? Too slow. What if you only nail it for the “housewife” in Berlin, but loose in the U.S.? Back your bags, you've just been transferred to Munich. What will you have gained or learned?

Luke, I think you nailed it on the head when you stated the challenge as being “designing for a shifting context”. I’ll give you an example; we were recently discussing a product launch in Taiwan. Of course one of the questions was: “Will this meet the needs and desires of the Taiwanese people we are designing for?” Well, there is a interesting phenomenon happening in some countries in Asia right now. Korean youth culture/style is starting to drive culture in other Asian markets.

It should also be noted that Korean soap operas are killing in the ratings outside of Korea as well.

But I digress, back to Korean youth culture. What is influencing Korean youth culture/style? The answer: a mixture of early 90s U.S. B-boy styles and current NBA sports gear. Where does that put you as the designer, do you trend watch Taiwan or Korea? Probably both. Sugarhill Gang or the Knicks? Again, both...

So, how will we design for the “shifting global context”? I believe it is going to take an open source network of designers and researchers leveraging skill sets and intellectual property in ways we have not experienced. What do you think?

There's more...

Continue reading part three of Design Globalization right here on Functioning Form.