Designing the design culture

Delivering consistently great design is not an accident.

Companies such as Apple, Intuit, SAP and IBM are building “cultures” of design. This just goes to show the value large and successful companies are placing on a design culture.

We live in an Experience Economy. People demand experiences over just products or services. They expect to be understood, treated well and want to do their tasks across all their devices in varying contexts. This need of today and with the rapid advancement of technology has created uncertainties never before seen.

When there is no clarity, design provides clarity.

But before we explore how to build a design culture, lets examine what is design culture. Some essential characteristics of a design culture are that it is a fun and a positive atmosphere. It comprises teams with diverse skills and is usually behaves like a flat organization, with everybody fearless to share their ideas and thoughts. It has a character of its own and generally has a clarity of where the organization is headed. Its agile and most importantly, is in a state of constant experimentation i.e. when a goal is reached, you ask “how can we do better?” or “what next?”. Continue the “experimentation” because often, the journey is far more beautiful than the destination itself.

All designers are evangelists. And in this culture, they assume the role of a visionary, critique and the custodian of the creative culture.

So obviously, there are many benefits in creating the design culture. But how do we do this? Well, there are a few things when done well, helps create a sustained design culture.

Get the right people on board

The most important thing to do is this. When there are people who have the right “design” attitude, ready to make the space their own. In fact, hire role models and not “candidates” or “talent”.

When they are on board, celebrate them and give them freedom. As Steve Jobs says, it will be stupid to get smart, creative people on board and tell them what to do, because that just means they are going to carry on the mistakes made as well. Reward their risk taking behavior and also failures. We lost a recent pitch but as a team, we were proud of the effort and celebrated that with a party.

Ed Catmull, President of Pixar, talks about this and more in this insightful talk here.

Now that is not something you see in organizations everyday. 
When taking risks is rewarded, it liberates people from going for the “safe” option and think big and question what the status quo. When the right people come onboard, make them champions.

Nurture behaviors to encourage creativity

Water cooler conversations are a great indication of the culture of the place. What is majorly discussed there? Is that a great idea thats being analyzed or the latest celebrity gossip? Its essential for creative evangelists to further conversations around great ideas and topics of creativity. It happens to be quite interesting, is easily relatable to all and sharpens the thinking along the way.

Create an environment of empathic behavior all around — not just our users or clients. Employees, the support staff, our vendors all of them are people and they need to be seen that way and understood.

And most creative spaces thrive on the sense of ownership that their inhabitants possess. After all, its not something that gets done one time but needs continuous nurture and care and only the residents of that space can give the care it so needs when they believe in it and are ready to invest their efforts.

Creative organizations do want to be questioned and prodded. Allow people to question the existing processes. Let them connect the dots and find “work arounds”.

Its important to understand that in design environments, today’s excellence is tomorrow’s BAU.

Be known for creativity

Design environments make efforts to build their reputation and internal and external brands. People also have their own personal brands. To spread this further, conduct internal design thinking and other creative workshops for employees and other partners. In the larger scheme of things, its the lowest effort and highest impact option that any creative space can exercise.

So spread the word across the company that you are a design environment and be known for creativity.

Most importantly, remember that designing the Design Culture is a continuous activity.

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