User Experience Design

You Are in the Design Business

No matter your role, or the task at hand, you can use design thinking to get better results.

by Darrell Estabrook

Consider this: if you create anything in the course of your day, you are in the design business. Did you know you can maximize the power of design to bring innovative solutions to your customers and to your industry?

Recently, I was at a client meeting being introduced to a new team. When it came to me I said, “I’m the user experience designer.” “Oh,” said the client, “you make things look good.”


Even at times when it's not verbalized, in those situations I can see the thought bubble pop up over people’s heads containing a paint brush or a beret. Ask any designer by trade and they will tell you of similar incidents.

It's an interesting assumption since, if design is purely about aesthetics, it then must be something optional to (and potentially getting in the way of) producing something functional. Aesthetics is considered something additive to enhance an experience. But design is far, far deeper than that.

Design has been defined many times over the years. Jeffrey Zeldman once said, “Design is not purely decoration, it is about problem-solving.” That's true, but that definition doesn’t quite connect with the person sitting across the table during team introductions.

At its core, design is the inventive arrangement of parts or details. When you think about who is arranging these parts or details in an inventive way, the answer is—anyone creating anything. It means you.

Whether creating a website, building a house, or planning a birthday party, design is activity people undertake. Given that these activities are design, there are two ways to “do design”—by accident, or on purpose.

Doing design by accident is not really design—it's randomness. It's an endeavor securely based in guesswork and speculation. It can be purely organic growth, as in an organizational structure or even a system where functionality has been added piecemeal over time. Sometimes, it is circularly pushed and pulled by a multitude of voices (this has been described as “design by committee”). It can also manifest itself when the first idea on the table is the one which moves forward.

The results of doing design by accident run the gamut from poorly executed to ineffective. In the end, satisfaction is undermined by confusion.

So design, which is not beleaguered by randomness but rather focused, intentional, and wildly successful, is done on purpose. To put it simply:

Design is a response to a purpose.

This approach demands a shift in perspective in the way you think about design:

There is an emphasis on purpose.

“Purpose” isn't your typical one-line business goal or project charter. This is a thoughtful collection of desired outcomes. Ideally it’s a strategy that can guide a team in their efforts. How much do you focus on the purpose of your endeavor before beginning?

Uncovering new solutions is a team effort.

It unleashes a creative approach the entire team can embrace, not just the artistic team members.

This is because, since we’re responding to a purpose, there is more than one way to achieve that purpose. Unlike math where 2+2 will always equal 4, achieving a purpose is rarely a straight line. That means there are undiscovered possibilities which, when combined, will yield results more effectively than simply executing on the first idea. Uncovering those possibilities takes the participation of an entire team. Are you engaging what might seem unlikely sources of contribution to your team?

When the purpose is changed the response must change.

It’s common to assume that once a response is chosen and implemented, it will be effective forever. However, since we’re responding to a purpose, when the purpose changes the response becomes weak. The weak response needs to be strengthened or changed in order to achieve its purpose most effectively. Does a change in design catch you unawares when new information is presented?

Design happens constantly. Be aware of it.

One of the best things about realizing that you are in the business of design, regardless your role or the task at hand, is that this framework we’ve discussed applies to any situation in which something must be created. Whether it’s defining a strategy, using divergent thinking to tackle an implementation challenge, or planning for your grandma’s 100th birthday, there necessitates a purpose, some responses, and finally an enablement. Using purpose as a guide, you will undoubtedly get better results.

So welcome to the design business! Start leveraging the underpinnings of design today and see what truly innovative results come out of it. I would love to meet you, so please let me know if you’d like to talk further about any of these concepts, or about formulating a great response to a worthy purpose. Don’t worry, when I do I’ll still wear my beret.

Darrell Estabrook
Darrell Estabrook
User Experience Lead
Contact Darrell

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