The Democratization of Design

Joshua Taylor

As designers we are most successful when we are facilitating the design process—not when we are trying to own it.

I think we spend just a little too long trying to get designers a seat at the table or a more prominent position in the companies we work for. The biggest way we can be more successful is by trying to make these organizations think about design similar to how we think about design. If we can show developers, PMs, CEOs, and other contributors how to be great design thinkers, they won’t make poor design decisions we have to live with.

So how do we do this?

First we have to redefine design not as something performed in Photoshop or Sketch, but rather a way of thinking—a process that emphasizes solving problems creatively. This type of design takes into account user needs, business goals, technological constraints, and things like speed, aesthetics, layout, flow, etc. This isn’t the type of design that can be done by any one person—or even one team. It demands a multi-disciplinary approach.

This definition of design is actually one that many people already hold as true. IDEO popularized the term design thinking decades ago. And yet we’ve tried to make it a process for designers rather than a way of thinking that can be used by anyone to solve a problem.

Practically speaking, here are a few quick suggestions. We can start by involving “non-designers” early on in the design process so they can see how it works. We can do designs sprints with them so they can see the thinking behind our decisions. We can show them how design can solve real problems for them. On a more practical note, design tools are more accessible and easier to use than ever. We can share these tools with anyone who is willing to learn. We can make toolkits so they can have the resources to flesh out designs themselves.

But more than practical tips, this is a mentality issue. This is about us not trying to own the entire process so that we can make ourselves look more important than we really are. Design is not a magic bullet and we are not the owners of the gun. Instead, design is a way of thinking—a way of solving problems.

If we can shift our mindset to thinking about how we can make others more successful designers, our entire organizations will be more successful — not just our design teams.

Think about it. If everyone in your company was a good design thinker, wouldn’t it make your design process much more efficient and effective?

Isn’t that the best way forward? Let’s try to make our entire company more design-centric by showing everyone how to be better designers. If everyone in the company is a better design thinker, our products will be better designed and we will all be more successful together.

I’m a product designer who has worked with organizations of all sizes, from Evernote and Airbnb, to pre-launch stealth startups. Follow me on Twitter for more.

Thanks to David Klein, Arthur Bodolec, and Jamie McCue for helping me edit.

Thanks to David Klein and Arthur Bodolec

Joshua Taylor

Written by

A product designer and manager of small but powerful teams. Currently a design director at Credit Karma. Previously at Evernote.

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