Every seat at the table

Moving from design-led to design everywhere

Photo via Unsplash by Nastuh Abootalebi

The past few years have been exciting for designers with a desire to be part of the decision-making process. We’ve seen growth in start-ups who value customer and employee experience, and an infectious feeling has swept into corporate culture. Now established corporate groups look to the craft of design to grow and evolve their offerings.

The result is a lot of talk of designers having a seat at the table. We often ask how to elevate the voice of designers into decision making, and treat design as business strategy - but we’re often conflating those points with putting a designer in charge of the company; the much-desired Design-led organization.

This is the wrong way to look at design in leadership.

Design-led doesn’t mean a designer in a founding position, or designers must be in the CEO role. Recognize that design as something “done by designers” is false — rather, design is a means to understand and solve problems with humans in mind. In truth, design-led is a way of thinking, and approaching problems, coming from everyone in the company.

Design-led means consideration for the needs of the people using the services and products. It means understanding needs, and working to deliver in a caring, empathetic way. It means the alignment of business goals and user needs.

When we look at design-led through this lens, all companies can be design-led — whether the leaders are designers, business, or engineering.

In practice, we can look to examples in real life where everyone in the organization acts like a designer:

Basecamp having all their team work on customer support — learning from the empathetic experience of helping people through their problems: https://signalvnoise.com/posts/3676-everyone-on-support

Everlane visits their factories and designs transparent pricing into their model, evolving their offer based on how customers purchase: https://www.everlane.com/factories

Warby Parker creates beautiful products, in a great brand, but doesn’t shift into the higher price point of competitors. Their famous “Home Try-On” where customers can have 5 frames delivered and send back what they don’t like is a direct answer to a human need. https://www.warbyparker.com/home-try-on

With the principles of design and empathy in place in an organization, more problems are solved with people in mind, balancing human need and business goal. Thinking like that can come from all parts of the team, regardless of background, with the team retreating to their own craft or discipline to make it come to life.

As designers, all of us, we need to be thinking about problems with empathy — being design-led, no matter who is leading.