Design in Business: Insights from Design Forward 2017

Nov 4, 2017 · 6 min read
Image for post
Image for post
The stage is set for Design Forward 2017 in San Diego, CA.

Over the past year, FreshForm has been at the forefront of making Design Forward 2017 a reality. Scott Robinson and James White, FreshForm CEO and CSO, lead the efforts in planning the Design Forward Summit.

The three day event was held October 25–27, 2017, which brought together San Diego’s leaders of the business, academic and civic sectors to discuss why ‘good design is good business’. Inspiration was drawn from local, national and international thought leaders from companies like IBM, USAA, PepsiCo, Herman Miller, Cubic, Qualcomm, Illumina and more. The mission of this summit was to ignite human-centered design thinking in those who attended and put San Diego on the map as a design-driven economy by 2028.

Following the summit, our FreshForm designers each shared takeaways and memorable moments which we distilled into essential themes and insights from DesignForward. As you read this recap, we hope you consider how human-centered design may apply to your own role or discipline.

Here’s everything you need to know:

The definition of Design has changed

First things first, design is probably not what you think it is. Designers should no longer be defined as the people who put the final artwork on our products. Multiple speakers repeatedly mentioned that the role of the designer is to trigger the right response. At FreshForm, we believe design is about identifying the right problem to solve, leveraging diverse perspectives, and delivering an experience to meet the needs of people.

Image for post
Image for post
Don Norman’s opening remarks at Design Forward 2017.

As Don Norman said, “Design isn’t just about making things pretty, it’s about solving problems.” Design may not even lead us to tangible solutions, sometimes our solutions require a switch in a system or simply a shift in mindset.

Designers are key to any business, it’s our job to change the perception of design among skeptics.

In today’s business world, innovation is essential to survival. Design fuels innovation. It’s no surprise that “Design-Centered companies outperform the S&P 500 by 211%” stated by Fortune. Hard facts aside, it’s our job as designers to communicate the value of design in languages that people in business will understand. Jared Erondu recalls his experience as the only designer (now Head of Design) at Lattice, “If you can make a solid business case for design, decision makers won’t argue against it.” There is no need to evangelize design, good design explains itself if you plan accordingly.

Image for post
Image for post
L-R: Jared Erondu, Bobby Ghoshal, Don Norman, and Scott Robinson.

Design doesn’t belong to one person, team, or organization. It belongs to all of us.

While we’re on the topic of breaking stereotypes, we must also forget about the notion that design is just a department, reserved for trained design practitioners. Design is for everyone and should be inclusive of all levels and all teams throughout an organization. It’s a skill that you can develop through critically evaluating a situation and offering a creative alternative. Andréa Mallard, CMO of Athleta was quoted, “Your non-design decisions are themselves designed decisions.” Even as a company’s CFO, you are still making decisions that affect how a customer perceives your company, therefore you are contributing to your customer’s experience.

Adversity Drives Design

Some of the most innovative outcomes are inspired by great adversity. Dana Lewis, from The Open Artificial Pancreas System Project (OpenAPS), shared her experience of hacking into her continuous glucose monitoring device in order to have a louder alarm when her glucose reached deathly levels while she slept. With no formal background in engineering or product design, she is just one of many from the #WeAreNotWaiting movement who are taking matters into their own hands by engaging their community and proactively designing better lives for themselves as they live with Type 1 Diabetes.

Kara DeFrias, Experience Design Leader at Qualcomm, confirmed this notion of adversity when she stated “Never take a no from a person who is not qualified to give you a yes.” Kara has had a career of creating opportunities for herself in the most unexpected places from the Women’s World Cup to leading initiatives as Director of Joe Biden’s UX Team at the Obama White House.

Learn Fast, Learn Frequently

Phil Gilbert, Head of Design at IBM, shared a bold statement expressing his disbelief in the popular “fail fast, fail often” philosophy of many young entrepreneurs. Failure is not part of learning. Of course we all learn from our mistakes, but failure implies that we do not move forward after making them. A “learn fast, learn frequently” philosophy encourages iteration, which is integral to the Human Centered Design process.

Good design does not exist without empathy.

Empathy is at the center of design thinking. When a designer can empathize, they have the ability to understand the feelings of their audience and truly design for their needs. PepsiCo’s Chief Design Officer, Mauro Porcini mentioned that “Designers are people in love with people,” and we couldn’t agree more. Here at FreshForm, our mantra is that empathy fuels connection; it fuels sustainability, and it’s what makes design human. Empathy is the cornerstone of design research — the single most transformative (and disruptive) addition to any team that aims to be innovative.

Never underestimate the power of your users.

The best sources of design inspiration sometimes come from the unlikeliest heroes: young school children. In a new model for designing playspaces for children in Singapore, Mizah Rahman and her team at Participate in Design involve children in highly interactive exercises to gather inspiration, ideate and even prototype in their project Hack Our Play. The original intention was to enliven sterile playgrounds that had become too focused on safety rather than fun. However, the project ultimately transformed the model for child development in and out of the classroom through hands-on engagement with issues that they had direct experience with. The beauty of design is that it works best when diverse perspectives share their points of view to generate an enriching experience for all.

Image for post
Image for post
Mizah Rahman from Participate in Design discusses community design in Singapore.

Never stop being curious.

Pretty straightforward, right? As simple as this concept may seem, we often become lulled into the mundane routine of life and forget to integrate curiosity into our daily mindset. However, the more curious we remain, the more conditioned we are to find patterns and opportunities that are often overlooked. Mariah Garrett, Chief Design Officer at USAA left us with words to ponder, “Ask more, assume less. Be kind and be candid. Don’t just check a box. Stretch daily.” Try this simple exercise: everyday, pick a random topic or object and ask: “how did this come to be?” or “how could this be better?”

Collaboration is critical.

It’s called the “Two Pizza Rule.” The idea is to never have a team where two pizzas can’t feed the entire group. Contrarily, we were quick to praise Phil Gilbert when he bluntly stated that “Two Pizzas won’t do.” We firmly believe that to go far, we must go together. Mark Cafferty from San Diego EDC offered eye opening insight when he reminded us that the fourth pillar of San Diego’s economy is Mexico. With the rapid development of real estate and increase of public engagement, the Border Region has developed into a desirable place to live and do business. With cross-border initiatives, idea exchange, and a wide range of perspectives, both San Diego and Mexico can progress together.

Image for post
Image for post
Michelle Peck, VP of Experience at FreshForm, getting the day started with coffee and conversation.

Don’t celebrate the wins, celebrate progress.

Design Forward 2017 is certainly something to celebrate, but there is a lot of progress to be made. As we continue to think about the possibility of what San Diego could be, we are inspired by Jen Luce’s perspective to celebrate technology while embracing the desire for things we can touch. As fellow San Diegans, we must practice not only design thinking, but also design doing, to move this fine city forward.

We will see you next year.

Image for post
Image for post
FreshFormers at Design Forward 2017.

Originally published at on November 4, 2017.

Experience Design Insights

A collection of articles from FreshForm, an experience…

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store