A day on design

San Diego is an exciting place to be and it was clear at the all-day Design Forward Summit in Downtown. Being around innovators and executives of all kinds including Don Norman, director of the Design Lab at UCSD, the Kevin Faulconer, mayor of San Diego along with a slew of other presenters who provided spins on the value of design thinking as a social and economic force.

At times the term “design” was tossed around like bird seeds in a basement and I would lose interest. I started asking people “what’s another word for design?” After all, it is about rethinking existing narratives and keeping things fresh. For me, it’s about mindfully shaping the conversation, as a holistic approach to problem solving. I would overhear people flipping it saying “what isn’t design?”

At one point I remembered an occasion with my dad while I was staying with him in Texas. He was driving and the navigation narrator was a woman who spoke in a voice that was fluid with a raspy touch and a slight cadence in her tone that sounded sexy and comforting. It felt human, putting me at the edge of disbelief whether it might actually be. I was convinced that her voice was purposefully designed. I told my dad and he, a mechanical engineer and the pragmatic type, with one hand on the steering wheel, said: “if you’re thinking about something you’re designing.” I think they nailed that one, adding comfort with sound.

Customer centricity
Any type of experience that wants to be more meaningful and attractive undergoes the process of design. It is continuous care for the customer journey and systemically learning what works and what doesn’t. With a human-centered approach, it’s the obsession with pain points paired with ongoing experimentation that makes a designer. Whether it’s an app, room, backpack, morning routine, or a meeting, how could it be different? how does the experience inspire happiness and relief?

Creativity is the backbone to design and innovation…or maybe it’s the spinal fluid or muscles around it. It’s a constructive mindset and it makes you move. It has no value inside your head and the right structure matters. The human body has a skeletal frame. No two are exactly the same and what goes on within the frame is magic.

Limitations can kill or spur creativity. At Pixar, teams push 10’s of thousands of storyboards as they carve out a completed movie. Pixar’s Chief Creative Officer, John Lasseter, says, “We don’t actually finish our films, we release them.” Deadlines must be met and how we meet them is the beautiful unknown, the active dialogue and shaping.

Soon as you commit to a deadline, it focuses the mind and commands new resources to be drawn out. Talented comedian Louie C.K. tosses all his material after every premier and starts anew for the next big show, daring himself with a blank slate. A central driver to the release of my book Threads is mapping out draft deadlines towards a final date. It helped to learn about Ann Lamont’s initial shitty first draft approach which has fielded her a score of bestsellers. The idea is start small and simple and fail forward. Little Bets is a great book that shares a wealth of insight on this method.

Design matters. In fact, Design Management Institute (DMI), partnered with Imotiv and Microsoft to form a Design Value Index, which shows Design-driven companies outperform the S&P 500 by 219%. Companies like Google, Apple, and Intuit plant design into their business strategy and culture. Consulting companies like IDEO and Frog, partner with organizations to help them grow design legs so to speak, and while the frameworks are open and vary a bit in language, the basic principle seems to be: be a human.