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Part 4 :: Getting It Done :: Post 3

Posted Mar.16.06 :: As part of the conversation Design Vision

Dirk Knemeyer

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Bob, lets clarify your comments about the team at Yahoo!: yes, it is a large team, but they each have responsibility over the design of different things. That is an important distinction to make. Speaking, at least, for myself, when I talk about design vision being driven by one ultimate decision maker, the essence of that point is that a product, or isolated components of that product, should be owned and driven by one key decision maker, who I’m calling a design visionary. The model at Yahoo! does not contradict this; rather, you are working on lots of product and components and have a big team of people working on them.

Now, the methods you are using at Yahoo! buddying people up to provide feedback on work, getting each other into one another’s design space to take advantage of different experiences and insights, regular meetings to share and discuss represents excellent design management in a large, design-focused organization. But unless I’m mistaken, the designers you’ve hired do have primary ownership on some degree of the products they are working on. Can you clarify that a little more, particularly juxtaposed with the idea of design vision being driven by a senior designer?

Bob Baxley

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I’m going to take a bit of a circuitous route to answer Dirk’s question so please stick with me for a minute — I’ll get there, I promise. When you look at organizations that are continually and repeatedly producing world-class products they are invariably driven by a CEO who has a passion for quality, a vision for the company, and an obsession with perfection. In short, you have a leader not only with a perspective but with a particular kind of perspective. Steve Jobs is the all too often mentioned example but others include Yvon Chouinard at Patagonia, Walt Disney in the golden age of Disney, and John Lasseter at Pixar.

In practice, while the designers in these companies certainly have control over the physical form of their creations, they rarely originate, own, or control the larger product vision as you’ve described it here. With every interactive product I’ve worked on, there were substantial engineering, time-to-market, and sales constraints affecting the product; constraints that required trade-offs and balances that designer professionals are not particularly well equipped to make.

I’ll go back to something I said in an earlier post: Design is a form of problem solving optimized for innovation not necessarily invention and certainly not for profit.

So finally to Dirk’s question: in terms of responsibility and control, the thing that EVERY designer controls is what gets created. As the person responsible for making ideas visible, all designers control which ideas are eventually expressed as well as how they are expressed. Is that control over the entire product vision? Not really. It is however, a critical and significant part of the process.

I want to wrap up with a thought about this lone designer concept. I think what we’re all trying to achieve is a product, experience, or artifact that feels like it is the product of a single mind. Obviously that’s most easily achieved when it actually is the product of a single mind. However, with proper management, leadership, and commitment, a team of collaborative multi-disciplined individuals is not only just as capable of achieving this but is also more capable of achieving it at a large scale.

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