Thursday, 20 December 2012

The New Design Paradigm

There are lots of really good trend reports and 2013 predictions floating around. I think people are getting better at this stuff as most of them I tend to agree with these days. So given they're all out there already, and pretty good, I thought I'd write a quick blog post on a movement I think is happening and where I think it is going. This is sort of my 2013 key area of interest in this ever changing digital world, rather than a prediction.

This digital world all started a long time ago with computers and stuff, and it has made some things easier, mostly for the consumer (?!). It has also created a lot more complexity for businesses and sometimes the consumer as well (?!). It has introduced lots of technology (obviously), but with it lots of things that businesses don't poses the core competencies to understand. "We're really just a business that provides...". Or worse they are so disruptive that businesses stop being able to really understand who / what they are and subsequently what they need to do to remain competitive. This has mostly made them reliant on other businesses and external people to enable them to distribute their marketing assets and services within the context of the new marketing 101 paradigm - right place, price, person, time, level of personalisation, last interaction etc. etc. The other difficulty is that digital hasn't really replaced anything, it has often augmented it, added to it in other ways or just provided an alternative. Therefore it has often added costs, demanded new business process and functions and created a hugely complicated web of interaction between customers and businesses. And sometimes it isn't relevant, but businesses are finding it difficult to say "no, we don't want to do that, we are better off using this channel instead".

Arguably the most important impact digital has had is on consistency. Consistency of brand message & promise, consistency in the standard of the experiences it provides, but also a consistency in the understanding people in the business have of what is going on and a general alignment to a common cause or set of decisions.

I think that the biggest impact of all though is on the now rapidly changing function of 'design'. I'm not a design expert, although it takes up a huge part of my life, so the following sentence is deliberately summarised and illustrative of the point I want to make (queue the debate). Design used to be about making a thing take the form or expression it needed to in order to be functional or create the visual impact it intended. Now of course that thing is no longer a thing at all, it is invariably many things. In basic terms you design a poster, banner ad, press ad, TV ad, your search positioning etc. You then have to think about the experience that follows, how you want people to express it in social media (if they choose or you prompt them to amplify it) and so on. Suddenly any simple design task is of course a complicated one. Even if you only design the one thing, because time and money or other pressures only permit this, the designer still needs to create something with the legs and potential to be many things any way - it has to fit and it will probably have to grow / find its way into other things. The shift in the design function on this basis makes it so much more important than I think a lot of people and businesses have fully accepted. And if you look at the most successful businesses in recent times then there is clear evidence that they have put design at the heart of what they do e.g. Apple (not so much recently though - queue the next debate).

So what does this really mean for design and how we do things? In simplistic terms the 'design' function will increasingly take many forms, names and roles. The creative technologist function we've seen emerging over the past few years is a clear example of this. Sometimes these people are more technologists (e.g. former developers) than creative's (e.g. former digital designers) and sometimes neither. Designers are now the engineers of experience, shaping visual experiences and interactions. They are fast becoming the masters of business success, driving the creation of solutions and even the production of them to ensure they meet the goals they are designed to achieve. This means that they know a lot (or sometimes a little) about a lot of things (or at least they need to). They need to be constantly involved in the business process overall, so that they are the recipients of data and insight as much as any of the channel or senior management functions. They need to be put in front of the decision making forums that steer business decisions as well - and we do have a tendency to hide them away, or not help them to develop the soft skills to be more actively involved in these things.

So I see a shift in the 'design' paradigm, an expansion in the breadth and depth of the function, and increasingly a centricity to the role. I'm certainly on a mission to help this happen, and as a digital business person I don't really have a choice - it is the answer to most of the organisational and business challenges I face.