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DMI News & Views - Viewpoints - Tennyson Pinheiro

12/17/11 8:51 PM

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Viewpoints

Design has changed. Designers, not quite. By Tennyson Pinheiro, Director, live|work Brazil Search ...

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It has become clear to (almost) everyone by now that the word design does not simply fit into the "beautification of objects" slot any longer. A great deal has already been done, and continues to be done, to take Design to a more holistic level, positioning it as a problem-solving approach for companies, governments, and society in general. Results are already showing up as more and more companies include design as part of their primary focus, and as design starts to climb up the ladder on these corporations to become a central part of their strategy. But what about us designers? Have we stepped out of "Designland" yet? Sadly, for the many of us, the answer is still no.

Tennyson Pinheiro

Even as Design Thinking gains importance in the strategy of large corporations worldwide, and more executives embrace it, designers on those companies are not necessarily ready for the climbing. As a Design Thinking professor at ESPM business school, and responsible for the Service Design discipline of the Branding MBA at Fundação Rio Branco (both business schools in São Paulo, Brazil), I feel fortunate to be able to help designers, executives, and entrepreneurs take their first steps on the Design Thinking path. Over the last few years, I have become personally involved in guiding some of my students in developing their theses, rethinking their professional and academic ambitions, or just quitting their lame design jobs in order to find something more meaningful in which they can apply their newly acquired mindset and transform things for the better. Yes, I do stand firmly behind the fact that we need designers moving up to senior management decision levels, but, truth be told, not every designer is fit for the job. I would even go a bit further than that and state that in actuality, most designers are not ready. Who should we blame for this? Well, if we were to start pointing fingers, blame would go to, among others, design education; "do-it-for-yesterday" advertising agencies; the complex organizational boundaries that prevent "normal" people from accessing the golden streets of Designland; the fact that most designers are design-centered; and lots of other well-known and sometimes polemical issues. But I will not take that road here; instead, I'd rather try to explain my point of view on what needs to be changed, so that we designers can become a relevant part of the revolution we ourselves have ignited. Although I am sure this is only a partial list, I believe that these old-school behaviors listed below are clearly preventing us from gaining more strategic relevance. 1. Be empathetic: Become good at switching from "Designese" to business language. No excuses! A designer won't hold a design thinker credential if he or she still thinks that businesspeople are too dumb to understand and produce creative ideas. Truth is, businesspeople are not even close to being dumb; they've been able to keep things going for a long time with what they already know. And guess what, for most of them that is working just fine. The really difficult thing for them is to understand our "Designese" language, and that's one of the reasons why business functions end up shutting their ears to designers. Make it easy for them, deep dive into their world and walk the talk on that "empathy building" thing we all preach about. Instead of thinking of them as a bunch of dumb analytical people, think of them as part of http://www.dmi.org/dmi/html/publications/news/viewpoints/nv_vp_te.htm

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DMI News & Views - Viewpoints - Tennyson Pinheiro

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preach about. Instead of thinking of them as a bunch of dumb analytical people, think of them as part of the design process; after all, the ability to tell engaging stories and sell ideas is a crucial part of this process. And that ability reaches a whole new level of importance now that we are looking for a seat on the upper management table, alongside people that have been selling their own ideas successfully over the years. Remember, it is not enough to grab a seat; you have to learn how to listen and be heard once you are there. Just consider the technology departments of some companies you may know—they normally have a seat on the board, but do they pitch strategically? Not often. Most of them are locked into the position of constantly responding to demands. 2. "Gestalt" the business you are in. Now that's a bit weird for some designers, as they think they are in the business of "designing things." But they are wrong. The business you are in, is the Business you are in. And guess what, you have to step back and understand the whole thing, get into the guts of how it works, how value is created for the company, and how the company generates value for all its stakeholders. It is only after you get a good idea of the company ecology that invitations for strategic meetings will start to show up in your mailbox. Remember, you need to be able to contribute at all levels; it is not just about bringing ideas to the table, it is about being able to co-create and improve on those ideas with other seat holders, and in order to sustain that you need to have your business mind up to date. Remember the technology department example? One of the main reasons they don't pitch strategically is because businesspeople believe that they don't have enough "gestalt" for the business they are in. 3. Get out of Designland: Find, create and nourish non-designer allies. Yes, it is cool to be in that cozy place where you don't have to convince anyone about the relevance of the things you are talking about. But guess what, those people have already bought it. It is time to move on and conquer the other foes of innovation: the skeptics, idea killers, devil's advocates, "we tried that before"—those previously avoidable people that Design Thinking has transformed into today's must dealwith people. Get another designer to buy your idea and you will find yourself some comfort. Get an influential but skeptical executive to buy your idea and you have a project. What are you looking for exactly? 4. Drop the rock star attitude and forget about always taking credit. Look, we will always have artistic designers in the world. Not everyone in the business will move to Design Thinking, sometimes it is about what the designer feels and thinks, his vision and not anyone else's. But that's not what Design Thinking is about. It has become clear to me that some designers are caught between their will to embrace Design Thinking and their desire to control the creative process. Although it is true that in a project a designer's ability and creativity will always influence the results, it is also impossible to take credit for a new solution when, in fact, it developed from insights and ideas that were not created by you, but instead, fomented and developed upon by end-users, front-line employees, business partners, and so on. Finally, there is the urge for us designers to start walking the talk and crystalize a strong strategic presence in this new human-centered business world. But there clearly is no point in continually screaming that design needs to be put into the center of strategy if you are not well-equipped to face the challenges that this will bring. So be honest with yourself, and the next time you feel like complaining about design not being taken as a serious matter in your company, take a breath and ask: Am I fully prepared to sit side by side with marketing and finance, and contribute to discussions about the future of the business? If the answer is not a resounding yes, my guess is that you've been somehow contributing to the situation you find yourself locked in. Design has changed. Shall we?

Biography: Tennyson Pinheiro has a background in IxD, marketing, and branding. He is a director of live|work in Brazil, professor and co-founder of the Design Thinking program at ESPM Business School in São Paulo, and responsible for the Service Design discipline in the Branding MBA program at Fundação Rio Branco. In recent years he has been deeply involved in many initiatives to help push forward the Design Thinking agenda in Brazil.

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DMI News & Views - Viewpoints - Tennyson Pinheiro

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Join the Discussion Please add your thoughts and comments about this article. Constructive debate is welcome, however, personal attacks will be deleted.

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Showing 12 comments Pgranato More than welcome, these ideas shared by Tennyson, show us that design is now playing a different role in companies today, being more socially responsible. 3 weeks ago

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Jeanine This is a great article and have not seen it expressed better than you have, thank you Tennyson. I believe the opportunities are ripe right now for us designers to move onto positions where not only we can make a difference but that will really place us at a different level, that of decision makers. Unfortunately, I have not seen many qualified to do so or with the desire to do so. It is not an issue of aesthetics, or form and function as we have known it, it is an issue of critical thinking skills and personal transformation. 1 year ago

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ferg4ddc Tennyson, Points well made. This point neeeds hammering home. Designers needs to talk in business language too. Otherwise businesses just hear "fluff". They've got to pay for it, so talk in ways that lets them understand the benefits of what they're paying for. Or in classic terms, make clear the design's function in terms your business audience can understand and they'll trust your instincts on form. Fergus www.onebigfield.com 1 year ago 1 Like

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Flanders InShape We find that still many important stakeholders in smaller companies, where Product Development and Design could make the difference, still think it's about the 'beautification of objects'. This is a good article, but non-believers should be reading this! 1 year ago

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Padma_tsering I personally think that it is important to have the Designland. It is important for designers to see the values of solving both aesthetic and functional http://www.dmi.org/dmi/html/publications/news/viewpoints/nv_vp_te.htm

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problem, and do their best to make the society believe in these values. I see quite opposite: many designers are trying to do what other people are trained to do and can do better than designers and use these things to position themselves rather than using what they are supposed to be good at. Clearly this is what the society requires, what business requires. And this is an unfortunate thing. The Bauhaus notion of problem solving had a rather radical ideal. Designers serve the society by using aesthetics. Designers themselves have the blood of artists therefore using design to ‘serve’ society is in fact a rather revolutionary statement, the underlying statement of which is: ‘we want to change the world’ instead of ‘let what business, what the society needs lead us’. Communication desigers today are lost. We should indeed question what designers these days are today, including those who position themselves as ‘brand strategists’. If many designers are behind, they are not behind in terms of understanding business and being able to speak in business language, but are in terms of educating their audiences the values of aesthetics, of valuing the importance of good design themselves. 1 year ago 1 Like

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Dace Runca Stelmahere Really great article! It's important to remind it again and again until understanding about real designer role and responsibilities will become natural as breathing is. 1 year ago 1 Like

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Valadi K Jagannathan For years as design profession was practiced we have had this kind of debate that implied implicit or explicit of designer being internalised or externalised based on the activity that the business encompassed. Designese as you suggest as language of expression of designer way of implementing vs business way of implementing is were the difference to design thinking has achieved what it could not do all these years. As for as emphathetic designers had achieved what business always wanted. But we have achieved very little interms of designer influence into human civilized society. Now the change is being felt because a bunch of designer thinkers decided to take the table and turn them around to see how it will influence the other spheres of life that we see design thinking as a strategic alternative. It is not designers that have to be embracing the new culture but society that has to think in a new paradigm if really it needs results. The time has come as change in almost all spheres of human activity has had a positive change and perceptions that drives a new breed of thought process that drives with a new seat pedal that will bring more stake holders into using designerly way of doing things that will make the impact. More designerly thinkers will come in to add newer dimensions to the profession as a profession it has changed in what we perceive from the stakeholders. Now the chaotic will give way to organisation and from which will be born new isms that will propel change in newer dimensions and not to talk about biomimetics and other parellel thoughts in business process models. we also have to re look in the hierarchy business models that really provides for businessmen to be owners of a business model and change makers or decision makers and ownership and territorial rigths belonging. well this model of business itself is shaken. we have newer model of open - polymorphic stake holders whose identity itself keeps changing in the business model that how and what and why of design process vs technology http://www.dmi.org/dmi/html/publications/news/viewpoints/nv_vp_te.htm

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changing in the business model that how and what and why of design process vs technology process application to achieve growth will change. This will mean we will evolve our newer models with a force to bring sensitivities and responsibilities of a human nature that is evolving than curtailing. Thanks JAGS Design for a change 1 year ago

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Tennyson I agree with the changes you mention and how they are already driving changes on corporate cultures. But i never mentioned Designese as "the way a designer does things that culminate in Design Thinking". Designese, is a metaphor i used to express the exact opposed design centric behavior that prevents a designer of successfully embrace a design thinking approach. Question is, business is, as you also said, embracing a designerly way of doing things already. Will designers move up along? I don't believe that this will be an automatic consequence of design thinking being embraced. My point is, for us to achieve that much has to be changed. And by that i do not mean change the transformative and creative mindset, or become alike anyone. That's not the point. The point is, there is urge for embracing a business perspective that, till today, most designers don't have. And as old as this discussion may be, we are still facing it, as a matter of fact, in my pov, it is not getting better at all. 1 year ago in reply to Valadi K Jagannathan

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Nicholas J Huff Authenticity is the best business of all. don't change just to change!! 1 year ago 1 Like

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Padma_tsering Yes. And if you let what business and the society lead you wherever it takes you, you will simply lost the whole point of doing design. Then why not study MBA at the first place? We chose design because we love aesthetics. We have the blood of artist. If the majorisy of brand designers or communications design say you have to do things for big corporations in order to be influential, and if they can truly use great aesthetics to achieve that and be able to inject artistic values into business, great, then they are truly great designers. But in the reality most people are simply trying hard to cope with business needs and are lost themselves in their direction. This is a very sad thing for designers.

1 year ago in reply to Nicholas J Huff

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XStacydesign Really? I thought they brought this article out of the archives from a couple of decades ago... http://www.dmi.org/dmi/html/publications/news/viewpoints/nv_vp_te.htm

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DMI News & Views - Viewpoints - Tennyson Pinheiro

1 year ago 4 Likes

12/17/11 8:51 PM

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Haig Bedrossian This is a great article. It is amazing how things change. Haig Bedrossian, http://www.haigbedrossian.com 1 year ago 2 Likes

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This article appeared in the September 2010 edition of the DMI News & Views. Copyright Š 2010 Design Management Institute All Rights Reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the copyright holder. Feedback on DMI Viewpoints and article proposals are always welcome! Please email jtobin(at)dmi.org. Email this page to a colleague

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DMi Article: Design has Changed, Designers not quite.