Disruptive Design: The designer as an agent of change

Design-driven companies show 10-year returns of a remarkable 219% over that of the S&P 500 Index. Yet the majority of technological companies in 2017 are still behind.

In this talk, Rona will explore the role of the ‘lonely’ designer. The one who’s been hired to make a difference for an engineering-driven organisation. As a designer who’s been in that position over the past 5 years, she will talk about the challenges and opportunities, and share some useful strategies she’s found along the way, to truly make a difference.

Rona moved from Tel Aviv to Brisbane about six years ago; and at the same time changed from being a graphic designer to being a UX designer. She thought she’d finally have more influence over projects, rather than being brought in at the end to polish whatever was already decided. But this wasn’t to be.

Rona found herself creating products that weren’t released; user groups that were then removed; did research that was ignored; scolded by managers for trying to change things; even told to stop talking to developers!

She needed to connect all the dots, to bring together the humans, technology and business. Why weren’t people open to hearing business issues from a designer? If users were telling you important things, why ignore it? This was well beyond defining UX patterns, it was part of defining what the product should even be.

She thought she needed a seat at the table, for leaders to listen. Time after time, this failed. She realised design was seen as a threat to traditional business. People who want stability didn’t like the messy process of design.

But companies can’t rest on traditional methods any more. Startups are embracing design as a competitive advantage. Business in general are starting to realise that design is important.

So how might we (designers) change the environment in which we make and deliver products?

Should we? Of course! If we submit to the status quo, design will be reduced to a service provider. People who stick pretty designs into a process but have no control over it. You can run away; but you’re just chasing that perfect unicorn job where everything is perfect… so you should fight. Change is inevitable. Businesses will transform, they can just choose whether to lead or follow.

What change is feasible? Two things need to be true.

  1. the company has to want to make successful products
  2. your organisation has to know they need design to succeed

Transformation is hard – ask big companies trying to do it. It’s hard to sustain the energy. Designers can bring bottom-up change.

What change is required? Companies doing well here have three common qualities:

  1. User-centric (but they need to actually be user-centric, with real data/metrics and not guesses)
  2. Collaborative (holistic problem solving/design thinking)
  3. Efficient (things need to flow, not be too controlled to move)

While Rona has plenty of advice, she really wants to start a conversation. Tell her what you think!