defining the value of design

The entrepreneur who picks a logo off the shelf to use, solely because it appeals to himself or herself, is more likely to fail in business than the entrepreneur that engages in a full design process. This isn’t just because self-reflection can sometimes be a smokey mirror. A full design process can be defined many ways, but for this post, lets say it is is one with research, symmetrical communication between the organization and its stakeholders, and sound design thinking with evaluation. Designers know the value of the design – but how can this value be articulated and understood by those outside of the industry? How do you define the value of design?
Business is based upon a trade of value – or an exchange. The fundamental concept behind it is that we, as a society, are better off if one specializes individually and then provides the expertise of specialization to others in exchange for money or barter. This relationship is built on trust, and – I imagine, in the old days, much of trust was based on and delivered by face to face meetings in a market or private store of some sort. Without that trust, you could not be certain that you would get what you paid for; the exchange may not have value in that case. We will be having a guest post from Matthew Politano (Oculus Design + Marketing) on the subject of design and trust which will elaborate much more on this subject.
Business has grown far beyond the original model of exchange into a global system of giving and receiving between people that may never meet or even speak. A gap has grown between those who make or provide, and those who consume or participate.
In this gap, intention, character, relevance, value, and relationships themselves become elusive. How do consumers connect and level with the merchants that they need to? Who – or more accurately – what is speaking to consumers in an age where so much business is done, literally, in seconds across the entire world? The subject of design, amongst other business practices, speaks volumes as to how organizations establish themselves, connect with their intended audience, and maintain a relationship. Indeed, design has elevated to the limelight of worldwide attention by becoming the hands and face of the modern business. In this sense, it appears to be a pretty remarkable noun. But what else is there to it – why can’t an entrepreneur buy a logo off the shelf and expect to have consistent and reliable success with it?
Design is much more than a noun; design is first and foremost a verb which has parallels in other fundamental business concepts.

"Design of logos involves effective articulation and visualisation of communication concepts determined by the client’s individual marketing goals. It involves analysing, problem-solving, strategizing, structuring, planning and creating images and text for specific purposes, including differentiating the client in the marketplace. Design affects a client’s bottom line, motivates potential customers, captivates audiences, cultivates brand recognition, and influences public perception of the company, service or product." – Peggy Cady, FGDC

Traditional business has market research; modern design is based on listening to the business and the market simultaneously. Traditional business has a marketing plan; modern design has an agile and maneuverable creative brief which outlines how the business speaks the language of the intended audience. The list could go on. The long and the short of it is that design has adopted the most critical processes from traditional business practice and utilized these processes into smart, two-way, relevant practices for the visual communications environment of today.
A gap exists between a company or organization and its audience. Thisall-important gap is the space in which an organization can sink or swim. The organization can put their communications into it – visual and otherwise – and if it’s hit the mark, it will reach the other end where the intended audience is. If it’s the first time this gap has been explored, however, the chances of making the connection is slim. Why? Because they haven’t figured out who is on the other side of it, and what will make them hold on to something that is making its way across. Indeed, exploration of the gap is very important. The gap between an organization and their intended audience is where the creativity can truly happen.
Traditional communication sees an organization position itself (or a brand that it owns) inside this gap. Broadcasting occurs asymmetrically – that is to say, the message enter from the organizations end and then are received en-masse. The theory roughly goes "if you communicate enough where you think your audience *should* be, then things will go according to plan." The image and words can be extremely calculated to reach as many as possible. It ends up notably impersonal and ambiguous as a result. Unfortunately, that vagueness is exactly where the relationship between organizations and intended audiences breaks down.

"Graphic design ignites passion, identifies, informs, clarifies, inspires and communicates in our interconnected, interdependent, real-time world. Identity has to do with what lies within and with intrinsic qualities – if that’s the case, are we satisfied with the qualities and values of graphic design as a profession? Never has there been a greater need for designers to dig deep, to exercise whole-brain thinking skills, to understand patterns of inter-connectivity, to join peer networks, to collaborate with other experts and to leverage the multi-perspective advantages of teamwork. How to best proceed, and to succeed? Help break down divisive barriers, embrace pluralism, raise the bar for civilization – and above all, further the characteristics that matter in making us truly human beings." –Robert L. Peters, FGDC, "Worldwide Identity" (Rockport Publishers)

Indeed, design requires understanding and a significant deal of whole-brain thinking to turn ideas, space and relationships into a meaningful catalyst for interaction. Nobody said design was easy – but does it need to be a shot in the dark? Absolutely not.
Symmetrical communication and thinking throughout a design process ensures that those who need to be spoken with are identified and understood. Market research and analysis uncovers who the stakeholders are and engages them. The relationship It is built on understanding and relevance, not volume and inundation. There is no need for excess when the mark is being hit. There is as much focus on who the organization is as who their audience is. The relationships are the priority.
Exploring the gap with symmetrical communication between the intended audience and design itself allows an intimacy which allows the merchant to be human again. A complete design process is one that not only enables a business to articulate itself, but one that also gives businesses the profound ability to listen. This is one of the many values that design brings to modern business.
None of this is to say that there is a problem with an organization deciding that it must, on its own, determine how it wants itself to be perceived, or its products – on the contrary, those organizations with a raison de’être will understand very well who their audience is, and may even be born of it. The business process required is one of critical thinking of the opportunity in front of them, and an action to address what they find. In other words, the business process has come face to face with the process of strategic intent: design.
I am not going to pretend this is an easy subject, or that it is even well-understood, especially by those who need to understand it – as Mark Busse points out on the Industrial Design blog.
There is an entire conference about the value of design coming up in Vancouver put on by Icograda and hosted by the GDC. It is Icograda’s world-touring design week, and next April it is in Vancouver for Design Currency – Defining the Value of Design. As an aside, I had a fantastic time putting the Design Week site together with Steve Fisher and Matthew Warburton. I had actually started this post in September and had no idea that there would be a conference about the value of design, so I think that goes to show the mindshare of the subject amongst those who think about a design a fair bit. The thought of mobilizing on a subject of this size is truly invigorating. If you have read this far, go look at the Design Week Vancouver website here:
See the headphone jacks at the beginning of the post? They look similar but they’re not the same. I’ll buy a drink for the first person to identify what the difference is – and what the implications could be for anything that could possibly follow that one, simple, difference.
I invite you to share your thoughts in the comments area below. How do you define the value of design?

This was originally posted earlier tonight on

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  1. just bought a pair yesterday at the beijing apple store, with the controls AS WELL AS the mic. perfect for using skype to call home for free, using my ipod touch.

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