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Five Ways to Fail at Design

From HBR's recent special issue on Failure, this article really hits home.

We’ve written about various angles of Failure a number of times here at DLB. Sohrab Vossoughi has a pretty good article on how companies fail at design over at HBR. According to him, the keys to success for companies trying to innovate through design are being open to design, integrating design within the organization and broader practices, and aligning expectations before beginning any engagement or process:

The truth is there’s only so much designers can do on their own to make a company successfully innovative. Companies that misalign their expectations — and many do ignore their own part in becoming more innovative — generally fail. They genuinely want good design, and they want it to impact their bottom line, but they want it to take place externally. Their vision of design as a purely third-party service is doomed.

Vossoughi’s Five Ways to Fail at Design are as follows:

1. Refusing to change.
As Paul might say, “to make an omelet, you have to break a few eggs.” Here it applies to a company’s willingness to change internally. If you are asking designers to innovate, you have to be willing to change things besides just the design.

2. Designing outside of your innovation space.
Nick said it before – designers alone can’t dream up strengths or competencies just by “doing design”. If you want to innovate, make sure you innovate within your capabilities, and that you can actually execute. In other words, design alone will not save you.

3. Trying to design for everybody.
If you don’t know who your users are, you can’t design for them. You can’t always make everyone happy, and you shouldn’t try. From my experience, often companies don’t know who their users are, they don’t even know who they want their users to be. These are important distinctions and the key to helping designers create things that actually work.

4. Insist on replicating another company’s success
Says Vossoughi: “An Apple-like experience delivered by a company that isn’t Apple can’t be sustained, because it’s not backed up by Apple’s culture and resources. The result is an inconsistent experience that feels disingenuous to customers, and shatters their loyalty.”

5. Compartmentalizing design into isolated tasks.
Designing piecemeal is designing without context, and it usually doesn’t work. Clients might see this segmented approach as a cheap way to redesign, but you can’t just put a shiny new logo on a poorly designed product or service and expect it to be golden. If pieces are designed, executed, and launched in chunks, the result will quickly become a patched together, inconsistent experience, which dilutes your brands and confuses customers.

But on this last point, realistically I recognize that many companies and clients approach design from this angle – they just want a new look, or a part of a website redesigned, or one new product. So some of the responsibility is still on us, as designers, to make the most of every project.

Vossoughi closes:

Good design can indeed lift a company’s performance from lackluster to outstanding, but it’s still just one element in the overall system. The key to getting what you need from design is letting it influence, and be influenced by, the other elements in that system.

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AndreaApr 12, 2011
 

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