There are many types of Business Designers. But, to what extent should you expect a Business Designer to be… well, a designer? What separates the business designer’s contribution from that of a business developer or a strategy consultant? Being a professional is a promise of quality to colleagues and clients. So, what are the elements by which a business designer’s quality should be judged?
This article was originally published on Medium.
Two types of backgrounds
Business designers are a sort of hybrid. Part Business Developer (for lack of a better tag to assign a “creative, entrepreneurial maker of strategic opportunities for organisations”) and part designer (…for lack of a more precise word). Due to this, Business Designers typically come from two origins. Some are trained in business schools or have entrepreneurial experience, others are trained designers. With no numbers to back it up, it seems to me that recruitment to the profession is slightly skewed to the former. Being a Business Designer coming from the design profession, I feel a need to start the discussion.
How much of a designer should you be as a Business Designer?
What is the secret sauce -the mix of mindsets, tools, and traits- on each end of the Business-Designer? What is the stuff that is referred to when someone says; “we ought to have a business designer for this”. For the business end, I’d love to hear from a Business Designer originating from for example business consulting. Is it financial modelling, transaction mapping, value chain visualisation, or something else? This article is about the design end. Let us just assume that a business designer originating from design also can demonstrate an understanding of business mechanics and processes.
Back to the question above. I thought it logical to start out by identifying what a designer is. That was not so useful. Look up Designer on Wikipedia and you quickly see why. Pretty much anyone can be defined as a designer. What I did find useful though, was identifying the contributions to expect from a designer. Add to this the word unique and it starts getting interesting. This article is my reflection on what skills and traits are relevant to making a designer’s unique contributions. I will try to hint at how they are relevant to solving business challenges -thus defending the relevance and appropriateness of the design component of a Business Designer.
7 designers traits that a Business Designer should offer
These seven traits are of course not exclusive to design professionals, but they represent unique skills and mindsets that together separate design professionals from other disciplines. Individual designers will have a different emphasis on each element, but together they can set expectations, and hopes, for including a designer in most processes. Specifically, it can set expectations for including a Business Designer in business decisions.
Designers have a human-centric perspective that augments and looks beyond market segments, use-data, and other analytical outputs. Designers strive to understand behaviour and experience and search for empathy. The what, when, and how (much) is interesting, but designers specialise in the why. This is closely linked to the “jobs-to-be-done” concept. Empathy is important for several reasons. It motivates everyone -including users, employees, and shareholders. It is the secret to coining great value proposals. It also makes it easier to develop that value proposal all the way to reality -with less dilution of stakeholder value.
2. Abductive reasoning
Designers master the skill of Abductive Reasoning. Abductive reasoning is the ability to recognise patterns and form models from scattered data. Many designers refer to this activity as dot-connecting, forming insights, or even conceptualising. It is the logic applied by doctors to give a diagnosis or by a jury to pass a sentence. It is the cousin of deductive reasoning (from generalised theory to hypothesis) and inductive reasoning (from data to generalised theory). Abductive reasoning plays a key role in design as it is the only logical operation that introduces new ideas. This makes abductive reasoning applicable to the dynamic and ambiguous contexts that almost all business decisions are made in today. It makes it possible to form strategy alternatives. What are the possible ways forward to solve this business challenge?
3. Co-creation skills
Designers master engaging processes of co-creation. Co-creation unleashes value worth more than individual stakeholders can create on their own. It also creates a broader palette of value; culture, experience, competence, social value… It can be widely applied. For example to facilitate team efforts, or engaging potential users in the development process, or even helping a board or executive suite negotiate a strategy or solve a wicked problem. A designer does this by applying an understanding of how argumentation for business decisions is not found but grows from curated discussions and interactions. A designer helps find a common starting point for making trade-offs. Sometimes this alone defends the inclusion of a design practitioner.
4. Understanding emotions and experiences
Designers understand and deal with emotions and experiences related to innovation efforts. This is a prerequisite to be able to create, sustain, and evolve intangible values in organisations. These intangible elements can make up a majority of your company’s value.
5. Iterative empirical validation
Designers kind of invented the build-measure-learn cycle. Iterative processes centered around testing on real humans, often and fast, is intuitive to a designer. This skill has been applied to increasingly more contexts, like for example software development, and it is now also applied to business. The Lean Startup movement is one example of this. There is a mindset fitting this rhythm that designers know by heart. This makes them essential components in the modern agile development world.
6. Prototyping skills
The most visible trait of a designer is a well-developed craft around making things concrete. We often call it visualising or prototyping. It includes sketching, visualisation, digital or physical models, and even writing. It contributes tremendous value in shared understanding and interaction with complex ideas. Often we find it enables multiple stakeholders to interact and negotiate meaning for abstract terms and processes. It is a catalyst for speed and precision.
7. Creative performance
Finally, designers design every day, all the time. They possess the critical amount of doing that lets them perform creatively with intuition and relevance. Yes, everyone can be creative, but not everyone is a top performer. Just like almost anyone can run 400-meter hurdles, but very few compete internationally. If you are in the process of creating you should want to include a professional creator. Designers are that.
So…what’s the conclusion?
Business Designers need to contribute with something unique to collaborate on solving business challenges. This uniqueness must be relevant, valuable, and of high quality. To what extent should this uniqueness originate from design? I would argue to a great extent. Hence, the seven traits in this article should be expected in a Business Designer. This comes in addition to business acumen, obviously. It is a tall order, but so is mastery of any profession.
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