“You can’t make somebody understand something if their salary depends upon them not understanding it.”
In our exploration of design thinking some people assume that it is the kind of thinking that designers do, but unfortunately this isn’t usually the case. For several reasons designers are predisposed against integrative ways of thinking.
To explain I’ll cite the example of the internal effort to fix the horrendous user interfaces of SAP’s software. A Wall St Journal article ($) this week quoted people at the company admitting to the poor design quality and describing their in-house effort to educate SAP’s engineers to be more sensitive to users’ needs. This is the designer’s goal: to design better products. A design thinker on the other hand might look at the whole system, observe that SAP has been so bad at designing UIs for so long that a massive culture change would need to take place before managers allocated the kind of resources needed to achieve significantly better designs. While this would be great, the design thinker would explore the option that UI design is not a capability that SAP should develop. One would ask if partners and customers are better equipped to design the UIs, and if SAP should simply build APIs into all the products. Would a director of design at SAP come to this conclusion? Maybe, but designers aren’t looking in this direction; doing so jeapardizes their ability to create interesting artifacts as well as the security of their jobs.
Another example is the revived discusion about working on spec, which rarely gets beyond a binary judgement of for or against. If one looks at the entire system, we see that clients have many options these days regardless of how designers like to structure engagements, presenting market forces that could ‘creatively destroy’ old transaction models. The design thinker would recognize this new reality, generate new approaches, and start experimenting. In the BusinessWeek case the job was relatively simple. Why not, for example, split the budget into three parts and commission three designs from three different firms? Each firm would have to invent a process that was profitable but is assured of being compensated, and the client still has a number of artifacts to choose from. This approach doesn’t heap glory and profit upon any one design firm so they probably wouldn’t suggest it, even if it could be better for the system overall.