Friday, January 18, 2008

Influencing Strategy by Design: Design Skills

Applying designer skills to strategy ...

"Perhaps the biggest area of focus in the Influencing Strategy by Design course, taught by Tom Chi and I, is how a designer’s existing skills can be applied to business and product strategy.

Many design organizations seek to impact strategic decision-making by learning how to speak the language of business. But until they master these new skills, they are likely to be the least qualified people to discuss business strategy at the corporate decision-making table. Yet no one else at the table besides the design team has a complete set of design skills.

These skills define a unique perspective that designers can bring to strategic work. A number of people have outlined what principles, approaches, and skills are characteristic of design. In particular:

* My compilation A Difference of Design outlined how design approaches to problem solving, validation, patterns, teams, and more differ from traditional business-driven approaches.
* In Leveraging Design’s Core Competencies, Chris Conley outlined the kinds of expertise that are at the core of design.
* Dick Buchanan also assembled a compelling list of core design competencies.
* Roger Martin contrasted the analytical thinking approach (common in most business-driven decision making) with the design thinking approach (at the heart of the design process).

From these more comprehensive lists, I’ve distilled four attributes central to design that provide unique value to strategic decision-making. These are: pattern recognition, storytelling, visual communication, and empathy.

Pattern Recognition

People make sense of what they see by recognizing the similarities and differences between visual elements. Through the process of visual organization, designers manipulate these visual relationships to create meaning. This requires an intimate awareness of visual patterns and the ability to manipulate those patterns to tell a structured story.

This pattern recognition skill can be measured quantitatively through a series of tests known as Raven’s Progressive Matrices. The tests do away with words and numbers and present all questions visually. Participants succeed by detecting the patterns in each series of objects and separating relevant information from irrelevant information. Given the amount of time designers spend manipulating visual patterns when creating product designs, they are likely to be highly proficient in this form of pattern recognition.

The same skill can be applied to strategic work. When faced with complex market information, pattern recognition is invaluable for separating the signal from the noise and uncovering insights. This skill becomes even more relevant when you consider the huge quantities of information available today: market research, user research, Web analytics, and more."    (Continued via Functioning Form)    [Usability Resources]

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