Looking For The Labradoodle Designer
The Labradoodle as a model for the designer of the future
For some reason, we started talking about dogs at a recent meeting between design leaders. The topic of the meeting was design-maturity and scaling design. But in between more on-topic discussions was an intermezzo of us talking about our dogs. In our groups of five, three were dog owners. One of them owned a Labradoodle. One of them owned a German Shepherd but would have bought a Labradoodle if he had the chance to chose again. Ever since former president of the United States, Barack Obama, bought a Labradoodle for his daughters when they moved into the White House, the Labradoodle is a super popular dog. I think the Labradoodle is a great metaphor for the discussion about the designer of the future.
A Labradoodle is a dog designed for a specific purpose. Basically, all dog breeds are designed for a specific purpose. Dog breeders of the past selected dogs with specific characteristics and crossed them with other dogs with specific characteristics to design a breed that is suited for a specific task. This led to different types of dogs: hunting dogs, watchdogs, sled dogs, companion dogs, etc. Within each main category, there are subcategories. There are different kinds of hunting dogs: retrievers, scent dogs, etc. Variables like size, character, strength, and smelling skills are different is all breeds. This is how people designed dogs to assist in a certain type of work.
The Labradoodle is very popular right now. Every time I go for a walk with my dog, I typically meet two or three of them. I think the popularity of the Labradoodle, apart from Obama putting it on the map, comes from its design and how well that is aligned with modern families. A family dog these days has to be a friendly dog. You don’t want to put too much energy in training the dog and training your kids on how to handle the dog. That is why the dog designers used one part Labrador, a popular family dog. A Labrador is a gentle and easily trainable dog. The problem with Labradors — and most dogs for that matter — is that they shed their coats. This is actually a very clever design by nature. We wear a different coat in summer and in winter. And nature designed the same system for dogs. In summer they have a different coat then in winter. The thing is that changing coats is different from humans. Dog have to shed their coat. So over time, dogs will just drop their coats all over your house. Two problems occur: you have to clean the hair and a lot of people are allergic to dog hair. There is one dog that hardly sheds hair and that is the Poodle. So if you cross a Labrador and a Poodle, you get an easy going, easy to train dog that doesn’t shed hair. This is a great solution for people with allergies.
Eliminate the one limiting character trait
So in breeding dogs, you can eliminate the characteristic that you don’t like or don’t need. One characteristic can stand in the way of an otherwise great dog’s success (success of a dog being its suitability for modern family life). All the other great qualities of sociability, trainability, friendliness cannot come to full fruition because of one characteristic: the shedding of hair. In the context of the modern family, where everybody is allergic to something, and people don’t want the extra burden of cleaning hairs, the Labrador is limited in his success. The crossing with the Poodle shaves off this characteristic. This creates a whole new world of opportunities: people with allergies can own a dog with Labrador qualities. The Labradoodle can succeed in environments where the Labrador could not before. Before people with dog hair allergies were limited to fish as their pet of choice. But you cannot play with fish, cuddle them or take them for a walk. A dog is a wonderful addition to a family that can bring joy and health and instill a sense of responsibility and connectedness to nature in children. It can bring a lot of value. But its use is limited because of one single character trait: coat shedding.
The character trait limiting the use of design
For me, this ties into some of the other discussions we had that evening when talking about scaling design and maturity of design. The application of design, the success of design in today’s and tomorrows world, is also limited by one character trait of the designer. These past years, people are discovering that design can solve more than aesthetic problems. Design can help solve business problems by applying its visual thinking, holistic thinking, creativity, boldness, and non-linear thinking. Designers are great at creating beautiful things. But if design is solely seen as an aesthetic endeavor, its use is limited. If people don’t see that design is more than decoration, the qualities of design will not be used to solve complex business problems. Both designers and business people have to see design differently for design to reach full fruition.
This starts with designers themselves. The image people have of design is largely determined with how design sees itself. If designers can’t see beyond the aesthetic qualities of design, how can we expect others to do so? One could say, following the metaphor of the Labradoodle, that designers have one character trait that limits their success when it comes to solving complex business challenges. That limiting trait is the focus on creating beauty, of seeing beauty as the goal of design, of seeing design as giving form. That is great for traditional design, but not so great for using design in a broader context. In the broader context of business, of life, design can have much more impact if it is more than aesthetics.
So we need a Labradoodle designer. If we could eliminate the stuck-on-beauty variable of designers like we eliminated the coat shedding of the Labrador, design could be more successful in the modern business environment. There are already some initiatives that try to cross breed an MBA student with a design student to achieve just that. The traditional art and design student is trained to create beauty, to personally express himself through that. Art and design students are also trained in holistic, non-linear, visual, bold thinking. The latter are all great characteristics that business desperately needs. But the stuckness-on-beauty, the personal expression limits these designers to enter the complex-business problem-solving-arena. Which is a shame. Both for design and for business.
A new type of designer
Don’t get me wrong. Traditional design has its place and value just like the Labrador has. It’s just that the Labradoodle can go more places, is more suited for the modern context. It’s a new, hybrid dog breed that is built on top of the character traits and skills of the old dog breeds. Without losing the qualities of the Labrador, the Labradoodle can apply his character in totally new contexts. Something is lost as well of course. The Labradoodle looks strange. We all know Labradors and Poodles. So the Labradoodle takes some getting used to. The looks of the Labrador, which are great, are somewhat lost. People who love Labradors, might not like Labradoodles. But once we are used to the Labradoodle, it becomes a breed of its own. At some point, people might forget the origins (although the name might remind them) of the Labradoodle and stop seeing it as a hybrid but as a breed on its own. Just like the designer who is able to add value to complex business challenges now is seen as a strange kind of hybrid will be seen in the future as a new type of business consultant. The new breed goes by the name of design thinker, business designer, strategic designer, service designer, etc. today.
These are the Labradoodles. They are the ones that got rid of their focus on beauty alone. They are the ones that are entering new environments. They are the ones that are able to use the skills, tools, and mindset of design to solve complex business challenges. They are still frowned upon sometimes by the Labradors and the Poodles. But they are the breed of designers of the future. If you can stop losing your coat as a designer, you can go to places where no designer has ever gone.
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