I had the honor to speak at the ADC festival 2018 about the evolving role of Design. We live in a very exciting time. There has never been a better time for designers. 

The impending possibility of disruption puts tremendous pressure on large organizations to innovate – IT organizations especially, as 72% of their budget is spent on simply keeping the show running. To stay competitive, organizations must not only be creative, they must also be able to execute and get innovative solutions into the hands of users.

“In the new world, it is not the big fish which eats the small fish, it’s the fast fish which eats the slow fish” Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum

My team likes to think of innovation as the confluence of technical feasibility, business viability, and human values. This design-led development model has been successful for SAP in the last decade. However, while most organizations possess the business knowledge and technical skills to achieve it, many still lack the human component.

Design is the missing piece, vital to integrating the human factor. It refocuses organizations on end-users to avoid a product-pushing features versus user-centric functions battle. By putting the user first, design also helps find the right problem to solve from the very beginning, to avoid waste.

Until recently, though, design wasn’t necessarily thought valuable to businesses – perhaps because it originally emerged as an artform. Designer are often recognized as artists that make things beautiful.

Let me give you an example.

Imagine, you are a designer designing the most beautiful chair. You win design awards and the chair is displayed in a museum. You are very proud!

Now imagine, you design a beautiful chair that is mass produced, because it is functional, beautiful and people want to have it. The company makes millions of USD selling the chair. Whenever you go to an office at a customer you see the chair you designed.

What is more rewarding? The chair in the museum or the chair that people love and that creates business value?

Yet, while we designers preach the necessity of integrating design, we don’t always integrate business and technology into our own work, because we think that “someone else will do that”. We need to eat our own dog food!

Successful design-driven companies go beyond using visual design as a service. Instead, they see user experience and design thinking as catalysts for culture change, as well as tools to drive business strategy and innovation. The way people think about design is changing.

We did a Google trends search and found evidence to support this hypothesis. Fifteen years ago, Visual Design was an extremely popular search. However, user experience and design thinking continued to build momentum, until they eventually exceeded visual design as the most searched for terms in 2015.

But we still have work to do.

Design organizations often operate in two main groups. The first focuses on innovation and helping organization to become more creative – aka design thinkers. The second focuses on product design, and usually works closely with product management teams involved in product development and execution – aka design doers. These two groups emerge from the same design-driven place, but seldom collaborate, or even take time to understand each other’s roles, goals, and challenges.

These two worlds need to converge. Design doers and thinkers need to come together, as the design landscape continues to change. The Design Shift began in 2000, when developers realized that visual design was vital to making beautiful applications that stand out. When successful use cases emerged, organizations began to understand the impact.

Further, when design sciences revealed insights into user behavior, design was inserted into the approach earlier. Ergonomics emerged in the digital age and resulted in the user-centric design discipline.

Today, it’s about inserting design into the equation even earlier, to find the right problem to solve. We as designers have the unique opportunity to bring design into business conversations from the very beginning, through co-creation and innovation, to help identify and define problem statements for businesses to pursue.

The future is in our hands. Design organizations need to practice what we preach and work together to maximize our impact on the industry.

If you are interested in more details, check out my presentation on youtube.

I am very interested in your thoughts and comments!

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