Our subtle informalities often diminish the influence of design
The discussed notion that design must “earn the seat at the table” within an organization sparks such a great visual to me. Seriously, sit back and think about it. Alongside the suits, slacks, and heels sits this scruffy looking designer in a pair of no-hem denim and asics covered immaculately in soot.
It goes without saying that dress codes have evolved in various work cultures. Not only has our attire and the maintenance of our appearance transitioned, but our soft skills and interpersonal capabilities have as well. Some consider that this is generational. On the contrary, talking to friends in financial services, and business marketing, there is a clear drive to still maintain an influential image. And doing that begins with your attire.
Readers interested in behavior change might be familiar with Dr. Robert Cialdini’s six principles of persuasion from his book titled Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. I believe there is a distinct correlation in how we dress as it relates to our control of influence.
So, maybe this has a bit to do with my personal journey and less to do with the current state of design. Throughout most of my childhood and early adolescence I had to wear a uniform to school. As this uniform was entirely formal, from the age of seven to fourteen I looked like an extra from Dead Poets Society. On scheduled days of the week it was mandatory to wear a blazer (see Cialdini: Social Proof). But otherwise it was optional. Back then my long division was just a solid as my half-windsor.
As I reflect back, I see how it helped boost both my confidence and performance alongside my peers who were from various socio-economic backgrounds (see Cialdini: Commitment and Consistency). I was judged less on the superficial aspects of my work and more on merit and thinking (see Cialdini: Authority).
Today, many designers choose to oversimplify their look with a t-shirt or oxford with hopes to be more utilitarian. This reiterates their working style. However, I might be mistaking this as intentional whereas it might just be a fashion trend.
In both consulting and teaching I interface with clients, students, and collaborate with many different teams. I do believe that the way in which one presents themselves says a lot about where they’re going. As designers we take great consideration of our artifacts and ideas. We should do the same with how we uphold, convey, and communicate ourselves in front of stakeholders and others involved. An unkept or disheveled look can distract the message at hand and hinder our credibility at the table.