Design Vision: Part 1

by February 7, 2006

Part one of Design Vision: a conversation about the role of design-driven leadership in the product development process.

Dirk Knemeyer

Great design requires a strong vision. Contrary to currently-accepted dogma, great design is often driven by one key individual who has the skill and experience to distill very complicated problems and contexts into elegant solutions that speak directly to the very essence of the challenge they are faced with.

As mediocre design continues to be churned out by companies with large design teams that do not have a strong visionary guiding the solution, these organizations will begin to appreciate the dramatic financial benefits and organizational success that can be enjoyed through the successful integration of a strong, visionary-driven design process.

Perhaps it is because the business and engineering components so often come before or even instead of a dedicated design effort that the idea of design as a strong, visionary function is not given its just due. But the challenge facing most companies today – and the opportunity for great designers – is that the design of their products is increasingly the greatest opportunity for meaningful market differentiation.

Luke Wroblewski

Of all the disciplines involved in bringing a product to life, design is what speaks to consumers. Engineering is the construction of function: enabling products to work. Marketing is the understanding of context: who is this for and what are we telling them. Design is communication: the interfaces, posters, packaging, and ads that speak to potential customers.

As a result, a design needs a voice. It needs a clear message. It needs a personality. This is why products “designed by committee” lack emotional resonance. They are trying to say too many things to too many people: we don’t know who they are. A design vision provides personality by focusing a product’s message through a single voice. It answers the questions: what is this product? How do I use it? Why should I care?

A product design without a clear vision has too many competing answers to these questions, and we are too impatient to hear them all out. A product design driven by an “automated or rigid process” has the same old answer to these questions. It lacks differentiation.

Strong design leads, therefore, are great communicators: orally, visually, and in prose. They can visualize a product’s personality, they can describe it, and they can articulate it in product specs, in copy, and within the product’s packaging. Designers without a broad enough (generalist) understanding of communication across different mediums are ultimately unable to provide a consistent voice to products. To me, the essence of capital “D” design is having enough horizontal understanding of a problem to produce a unified solution: a product design.

The problem is design is being segmented into too many specialties (information architecture, interaction design, visual design, etc.) which leaves designers without a complete understanding of their medium(s). If you don’t know your medium- how can you communicate through it? How can you give your products the market differentiation that Dirk identified as being crucial to your success?

Stay Tuned

Part two of Design Vision will be here tomorrow...