Design Philosophy: An Interview With Roberto Veronese

Executive Creative Director — Method

Roberto Veronese

How would you define what we do at Method?

We use design as a strategic tool to help companies solve fundamental business challenges such as increasing customer engagement, expanding into new markets, creating new value, accelerating time to market, as well as adapting and transforming capabilities. In general terms we help companies understand what to do and how to do it through design.

We help businesses in three main areas:

  1. We bring clarity and focus on the most relevant problems to solve. An insightful, well-informed problem definition leads to rapid problem solving.
  2. We collaborate to devise meaningful solutions as products and services. Our support goes from strategy and vision through full-scale implementation.
  3. We work as partners for the long run and help organizations grow. Our value goes beyond the scope of project work and ultimately is about enabling companies to create new capabilities necessary to be successful.

What’s your current role at Method?

I’m Executive Creative Director in Method’s San Francisco studio. I joined Method at the beginning of 2016 with the goal of guiding and supporting the evolution of the design firm itself.

At the global level, I contribute to our growth by working to shape our offering, organizational model, and capabilities.

At the local level, I’m in charge of creating the conditions for our teams to do meaningful work. That means selecting the right talent and the right mix of design challenges. My work is focused on empowering teams and partnering with clients to answer three fundamental questions:

  1. “Why”: uncovering the most meaningful problem to solve. The goal is to determine the “right reason” for doing something.
  2. “What”: identifying possible relevant solutions, turning them into concepts and prototypes to test. The objective is to identify the “right solution”.
  3. “How”: developing a solution in the most considerate and effective way, so that it will ultimately create meaningful impact in the market. That includes helping an organization to transform itself in order to deliver and thrive. The overall goal is to ensure the “right execution”.

Why did you come to Method and what perspective did you bring in?

I joined Method fascinated by the opportunity of shaping the evolution of the design firm. I was given the challenge of helping Method partner even more effectively with a wide range of organizations, meet their business challenges, and ultimately create meaningful impact. Method has a great heritage of design practiced with purpose and excellence, top design talent, a vibrant culture, a like-minded leadership team, all existing within the right size to be agile and constantly evolving.

I brought in over 15 years in design strategy and product design for organizations across a broad range of industries and markets, including the US, Europe, Middle East, Asia Pacific, and Russia. I worked in international design, strategy, and engineering firms. That experience gave me a unique perspective on the role that design can play beyond the common understanding of its relationship with the production of digital and physical artifacts. My overall stance is articulated in three ways designers can be effective: when they (a) “use design” to frame a problem and uncover opportunities; (b) “make design” to create a solution; and (c) “make it happen” to help an organization to deliver and build new capabilities.

(a) “Use design” to frame a problem and uncover opportunities; (b) “make design” to create a solution; and (c ) “make it happen” to help an organization to deliver and build new capabilities.

I see design beyond problem solving. Design is not just a process that begins after a problem has been defined. It’s first of all about defining the problem to solve. Einstein once said that if he had an hour to solve a problem, he’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions. In my experience that approach could not be more appropriate. A critical definition of the problem results in less effort and time required for the solution and greater value overall.

Can you talk more about your design philosophy?

My approach is based on three fundamental notions: value, purpose and impact. I bring them together in a design principle I call “form follows values”, a response to the famous “form follows function” and “form follows emotion”.

I believe in adding a foundational dimension to the discussion about functions and emotions. Why is a function relevant? Why is an emotion beneficial? That’s the space of the values at the core of the reasons for designing anything or nothing at all. Those values are the reason a product, a service, a feature, or an interaction should exist despite their feasibility and apparent opportunity.

That’s the kind of consideration that needs to happen in design before even thinking about problems and solutions. When you consider that some products and services are intended to be used by millions, you realize how important it is to have such perspective. Values define purpose in any design and determine its impact, of course among many other factors.

“Form follows values” is essentially about designing with values in mind in a quest for meaning and positive impact. This approach doesn’t mean taking a stand on what’s right and wrong in absolute terms. That would be another kind of design, perhaps design by religion or ideology.

Designing by putting values first means: (a) knowing the core values of the company you are working at or with; (b) understanding the values of the people you are designing for; and last but not least, (c) being aware of what your value system is as a designer, and therefore what filter or bias you will have to manage in the mediation process.

This approach goes beyond user-centered design as it’s not about the user only. It’s instead about interpretation and active mediation of the relationship between the values of a Brand, and the value systems of distinct groups of individuals who are possibly the recipients, users, and participants of the Brand’s offering.

In synthesis, “form follows values” allows you to build a compass guiding decisions and determining what is most appropriate for that company and their customers.

Your background is in both philosophy and design. How did your career in design benefit from a formal education in Philosophy?

I believe design is philosophy in practice. As a matter of fact, Design and Philosophy are much closer than one might think. In Design it’s fundamental to master critical thinking and analytical skills in order to frame and investigate a problem from a systematic perspective, building educated assumptions and inferring coherent conclusions. In a certain way, that’s also what philosophers do.

In design consulting, where I’ve been working for the past 15 years, it’s essential to build cases and arguments in order to support decision making and advise clients. My training in Philosophy is extremely useful for that as well as for design research, where you need to build a deep understanding of mindsets, beliefs, ideas, value systems, and conditions that are very different from yours.

What excites you about the future of the industry?

The role of design is expanding from the creation of relevant products and services to shaping strategies and ultimately entire businesses. I’ll give you an example. We normally collaborate with companies to help them define the ideal customer experience. In tangible terms, that can be represented by the blueprint of a vision, informed by research insights, brand and business considerations, and concept generation. That vision is essentially a map of the most relevant potential relationship and value exchange between the company and its customers.

The way that plan is used is largely in the function of creating products and services. However, that tool is much more than that. It’s a tool to shape the transformation roadmap for the company, realize a vision, and fulfill a brand promise. It will ultimately come with implications on the business model, the way that organization is structured, the capabilities they need to have, the technology they need to develop or acquire, how they should communicate with customers across channels, and so forth. That realization is often followed by a big question mark: who can support organizations in doing all of that? Where should the scope of design begin and end? What capabilities do design firms need to have? How do they need to transform themselves?

It’s a multi-faceted problem that not many design firms are equipped to address, and those that have the capabilities are often organized as different practices, not truly integrated.

What I find exciting is supporting the evolution of a design firm that can effectively orchestrate change in an organization and provide value, not just within the scope of a project, but in the arc of a long-term partnership. In my opinion design is about making something as much as it is about making something happen.

The evolution of design is also going to be determined by new tools. I see potential in the use of AI and machine learning to augment the capabilities of a designer. Algorithms and intelligent systems are going to advance the designer’s toolkit and dramatically change the way products and services are designed. Think about self-optimizing and adaptive systems, almost as if they were organisms that evolve based on the interaction with their users and their context.

Do I see a future in which designers define the rules that make the design? Yes, I do. And if I were a young designer I’d focus on developing skills that a computer program is not likely to reproduce. But that’s for another conversation.