When you accept the reality that design decisions are coming from outside your group, by people without “design” in their job titles, you approach your co-workers differently. Now they’re not just your co-workers — they’re your design team.
The companies that produce stately design, such as Apple and Airbnb, have learned this. Alex Schleifer, VP of design at Airbnb, tells Wired how the company isn’t design-led:
The solution [at Airbnb] actually deemphasizes the designers. The point… isn’t to create a “design-led culture,” because that tends to tell anyone who isn’t a designer that their insights take a backseat. It puts the entire organization in the position of having to react to one privileged point of view. Instead, Schleifer wants more people to appreciate what typically lies only within the realm of designers — the user viewpoint.
Does everyone need all the skills of a designer? Of course not. But each person needs to be armed with the tools to understand how their decisions affect the customer experience.
When an engineer takes a shortcut and scrimps on performance, they need to understand how that damages the user experience. Likewise, when a designer pushes an engineer to make a change that affects performance, that engineer should help the designer make the best overall design decision — not just roll over and do what the designer asked. It’s this type of respectful collaboration that makes great design happen.
One of the best ways to encourage empathy is to watch customer research studies with co-workers from across your company. When my colleague Michael Margolis runs a study with a GV company, we insist that the real team — not just the designers — watch those interviews and take notes. If it’s not possible for everyone to watch in real time, you can record the sessions and schedule a “viewing party” for later.
It’s When you accept that design happens almost everywhere in your organization, you have to take responsibility for it. Your app is slow? Go sit with your engineering team. Your marketing team is poorly communicating your product to future customers? You’d better offer to work with them on the problem.
Yes, doing design with everyone at your company is a lot of work. But it’s necessary if you want to be a truly great designer — otherwise, you’re simply papering over bad decisions.