Thinking like a designer can change the entire course of how we live. In fact, you could argue that design is the reason why we have the current lifestyles and society we do. Someone (lots of someones, actually) saw something wrong with the way things were and decided to design something different. That’s why we have smartphones instead of rotary phones, GPS instead of paper maps, and comforts like air conditioning and heating system.
Design is at the heart of how we create products, services, processes, and strategies. But design culture takes things a step deeper. It brings a broader scale level of user-friendliness to the concept of design thinking to include not just the customer, but also the team of hands behind the product design.
In essence, a design culture encourages every member of the organisation to understand the principles, values, and benefits of design thinking.
This isn’t something that happens by chance, but rather something that is carefully cultivated and nurtured over time. Intentionally creating a design culture, when done correctly, should empower, grow, and enable the full potential of the people we work with and our organisations as a whole.
The Roots of Design Thinking and the Creation of Design Culture
Nobel Prize laureate Herbert A. Simon was the first to mention design as a science or way of thinking in his 1969 book, Sciences of the Artificial. When IDEO brought design thinking to the mainstream in the 1990s, it focused on developing a customer-friendly approach to decision making and problem-solving. With intentional steps and toolkits over the years, they have set the foundations that most modern companies use to deliver solutions that add real value to customers’ lives.
That last bit is what fascinates me the most and led me to a career in the field. Design has been my occupation since the late 2000s, and along the way, it’s taught me as a professional to have a human-centred core. It encourages us to focus on the people we are creating for — removing frictions and pain-points throughout customers’ journeys when they experience brands’ touchpoints.
And one of the most important questions I’ve learned to ask myself in my life is this: How can I bring this same approach to the people I’m with?
“Human-centricity can make the world a better place. And design plays a crucial role in that.”
Family, friends, teammates, or anyone who might cross my path in this journey called life is the recipient of my words, thoughts, and actions. My goal is to add real value to the people in my life and be intentional with my decisions. And that is my professional goal, too.
As a designer, my purpose is to make sure we make people’s lives better than the way we found them. This already applies to customers by solving their problems in a way that’s logical and beneficial for them, and to my teammates by making our work as meaningful and enjoyable as possible.
Design thinking already helps us to do this for the end-users we create for, but now I’m exploring ways in which we can apply it in an organisation.
Ideally, a culture with design as a foundation should treat employees in the same way we treat customers — a culture that enables us to do our job in the most creative, relevant, and effective way possible.
However, it’s only possible to achieve this designation when everyone buys into the concept. Any culture is the holistic combination of its players’ values, beliefs, and ideals, so it’s essential for entire teams to understand the role of design in the company culture and how it’s supposed to look and function.
To foster this culture of design, I like to approach the concept from a human-centric perspective. After all, people are all the core of everything we design. If a product doesn’t leave someone or something in a better place than where we found it, we haven’t fulfilled our obligations as designers.
People as the Core
As a human race, we are makers, thinkers, and doers. We see problems, so we design solutions. We do it for the people we care about and for humanity as a whole to advance and grow together. You could make the argument that society itself is following a design culture of sorts.
To dial it down to the organisational level and further support a design culture, I believe the following tenets play an essential role:
- Diversity, inclusion, and equality. The more different we are, the more we can achieve. To be clear, diversity doesn’t just mean different races, genders, and cultures, but also different ways of thinking. It’s often believed that diversity is something that can be seen on the surface, but I also agree that it’s something that must be heard and felt, too. We must also create a culture of inclusion that will allow people of different backgrounds, skill levels, and ways of thinking to thrive. It’s not enough to have diversity if those who are bringing new opinions and ideas to the table aren’t able to be heard. Last but not least, we need to work as a team of equals, where each person feels they bring something special to the team and that no job or idea is too small to make a difference.
- Managers work for the employees. Managers should assume the role as mentor to help employees achieve their own professional goals and reach their full potential. They should be invested in their team’s success and remove friction or pain points that could be stifling creativity and production, just as we do this for our customers. This enables each team member to work for the customers at a greater level and promote organisational growth from within.
- Fewer meetings, more social engagement. Too often, meetings lose their meaning. People see them as necessary evils and aren’t really sure of their purpose. Meetings should be seen as opportunities to reconnect and share ideas, but too often, they take a reactive approach instead of looking forward. We should try and use our meetings as energy sessions to create momentum. Strengthen our teams and provide a platform for collaboration, active listening, feedback, and personal growth. Most importantly, make them fun. Switch up the format and do workshops, demos, or anything that will keep people engaged and feeling like they’re walking away with more than what they came in with.
- Bring your best self. This is not only important in the workplace, but it can essentially be applied to every relationship. Energies are contagious, and when we’re not putting our best foot forward, we can subconsciously encourage others not to, as well. However, when we make a conscious effort to be our best selves and add impact to the work environment, this too becomes contagious and can create a greater level of synergy that allows all to succeed. We should strive for trust, respect, optimism, and compassion and allow the best version of ourselves to take the wheel at all times.
Design as a Mindset
Remember that design thinking and design cultures don’t happen naturally. They take careful thought and planning, as well as a commitment to upholding their values and purpose. To maintain this mindset, I’m sharing a few of the things that have helped me make design culture a conscious priority:
- User Experience shouldn’t be the role of a single person or team, like UX Designers in many companies as we see nowadays, but rather a mindset embraced by everyone in the organisation. Creating a design culture allows each person to take ownership of their creativity and apply it to the whole organisation.
- Creativity is a process. It is not a talent or something you have or don’t have. Likewise, design thinking is not a process that should be owned by designers; instead, it should be owned by anyone within the organisation — making use of design thinking as a methodology — a science for creative problem-solving.
- Physical spaces should be used to create an environment for people to be creative. The facilities you use should be developed to inspire and promote productivity and creativity. This can be accomplished in different ways, from using colour and art to bringing in natural elements or anything that sparks emotion or critical thinking.
- The tools we use are an extension of ourselves, in both physical and digital environments. We use tools to help us to collaborate, validate assumptions, conduct faster research, and ensure quality throughout our work. If the tools we use aren’t able to do these things, we need to rethink our toolset.
I currently work in a team of over 55 designers from all over the world and all different areas of design. We work in a culture where everyone is encouraged to challenge the norm, experiment with new solutions, and innovate the customer experience wherever possible. Design culture isn’t just a theory for us – it’s something we’re living.
We face challenges, of course, and that will always be the case. But together, we can do so much more, whilst alone, so little. In a culture where we endeavour for continuous feedback, sharing, learning, and collaboration, the sky truly is the limit.
It’s time to think about how we can start developing a design culture in our teams, businesses, or organisations. If there are areas in which you or other team members feel stifled, how could you change it?
Time is our most valuable asset; the only one we can’t buy or get back. So why not try spending the countless working hours we have in the best way possible? We can, therefore, embrace design culture to do more than think about the people we’re creating for, but also include the people we’re creating with.