In a world where consumer expectations are rising rapidly, forward-looking companies are increasingly embracing the power of human-centered design as a strategic advantage. The ability to envision and deliver great customer experiences is becoming a key territory in which companies compete, and this competition is happening with a backdrop of rising consumer expectations across a variety of sectors.
As companies invest in design as a way to create customer and shareholder value, design leaders and designers must be conscious of the organizational systems in which we work. We can’t go it alone, and in order to more effectively bring products, services and experiences into the marketplace, where they can deliver value, we must recognize that we play a part in a larger whole.
“Meeting Halfway” is the idea that as leaders we need to embrace and cultivate ways to expand the common ground between designers and the other groups that we work with. Although there are many models or frameworks that describe approaches to product development, focusing on a classic one helps to illustrate the problem and the shift in mindset that we can help to engender within our organizations and our teams. One such model illustrates how considering the overlap between business viability, technical feasibility, and human desirability provides the territory to be mined for product ideas worth pursuing and bringing to market. These however are typically rendered with very little overlap in the middle – and if this is effectively our target, it begs the question:
Can’t we create more common ground between the groups – and the perspectives that they represented – involved in creating products, services and experiences? Can we move from the representation on the left to the one on the right?
Here are a few levers on how we can help our design and creative teams meet halfway with others we work with.
We communicate with each other through language. In an organization, it can be used to signal our tribal affiliations, and importantly, as a signal of our depth of knowledge and understanding of a particular subject area. It can help to build or destroy our credibility with others. As designers, we can meet our partners halfway by starting to build just enough fluency in the language that they use. By making an effort to build vocabulary and understanding in areas beyond design, we show that we value and understand the perspectives of the others we work with. Conversely, language used incorrectly or without a baseline understanding of its meaning can destroy the fragile credibility that we are working to create with our partners.
Culture is the set of implicit norms and expectations that help build cohesion within a group. Creating a strong design or creative culture within an organization is important, but we can’t stop there. Creating an inclusive culture that invites others outside of design and creative viewpoints to participate is equally important. While we often speak of using empathy to understand the people that we design for, we can and should extend that mentality to the other groups within an organization. Designers can meet their peers halfway by fostering the right conditions and support for creative problem solving to take place.
Another way in which we create common ground within our organizations is to focus on impact. Leaders can help connect the organizational goals to those of individuals and their teams to drive a shared purpose. This alignment means that we are all moving powerfully in the same direction. In the same vein, leaders aligning and embracing measurement – whether it be business, technical or human metrics – help to set the tone for our teams around the externally observable, objective common ground between designers and those outside of design.
By cultivating common language, an inclusive culture, and focusing on impact, we can all move beyond our comfort zones to understand and embrace the other perspectives that exist within our organizations. Let’s meet each other hallway as we all try and create products, services and experiences that are valuable and meaningful for people and the organizations that we work within.