Design problems are business problems

We have just returned home from IXDA15 Conference in San Francisco. Three days of discussions, smart talks and reflections on Interaction Design. What have we brought back from this experience? How is Interaction Design changing?

It ‘s hard to convey the emotions, the energy and the message of all the awesome speeches we have listened to at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts; yet we can mention some of the trends and the main topics.

A lot of talks dealt with deontology: the ethic and the responsibilities of the design work; which implies a reflection on the impact of design on the word, the very idea of change and purpose. And on the contentious edge between market and ethics.

Nothing new. But we have perceived that Interaction Design has moved to a further, and more mature, phase and now debates on the influence it has on other groups, such as business and politics.

This idea has been brilliantly pointed out by Tim Brown: design is a vehicle for change and, in time, it has moved from dealing with single products to big systemic issues. For its nature, design is comfortable with complexity and uncertainty because it has the means to cope with those dimensions and reduce the side effects. In other words, design has the faculty to be intentional in an uncertain and complex environment.

It is clear, then, the emerging trend: design is increasingly involved in the definition of business strategies and can help business pursuit continuous innovation and manage the change in an evolving world. Some firms have correctly understood the trend and are embedding design inside the company.

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So, are the design agencies dead? Are they doomed to be swallowed by other companies? Are they losing their supposed ‘purity’? This is a broadly debated question, even before the conference started. We think that design can offer a distinctive perspective on reality and give its unique contribution to the market. But, yes, design practice has shifted its focus, and design agencies have to embrace the change, as well as the environment around them.

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Design agencies have multiple roles: spread their distinctive culture and method, support the activities and, above all, firmly assume the role of strategic partner in the change and innovation management process.

There will be wider overlapping areas between Design and Business — and attending conferences such as IXDA can help business see the link between the two — because both disciplines have impact on people life experience, behaviors, feelings, and choices.

This is the reason why the difference between business and design problems is fading.

(Many thanks to Chris Noessel for his beautiful sketches!)