Steve Jobs: The Mistaken Assumption About Design

“Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it’s’ the veneer—that the designers are handed this box and told, “Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”—Steve Jobs



Design is a Way of Life

“Design is a way of life, a point of view. It involves the whole complex of visual communications: talent, creative ability, manual skill, and technical knowledge. Aesthetics and economics, technology and psychology are intrinsically related to the process.”—Paul Rand, from A Designer’s Words.

Groupon and the Creative Voice

Groupon’s rise to success has, in great part, hinged on fresh, clever writing, and steering clear of old adages, clichés, and even pop culture references. In an article by The New York Times, one staff member underscores their focus on fresh, original perpectives:

” ‘People have grown numb to the elements of advertising that pander to their fears and hopes, that insult their intelligence with safe, bland approaches at creativity,’ says Mr. With, who at nights and on weekends is lead singer in the band Volcano. ‘We’re mixing business with art and creating our own voice.’ ” *

Mr. With’s sentiment could easily have come from the design community, where, like all creative fields, the aim is often to evoke surprise, response or reaction from the audience, while this is often challenged by tactical restraints defined by marketers and other areas of business. It is worthy to note that Groupon’s success comes in part from dodging the safer, tested routes of communication that design clients often think they prefer; Groupon’s success and commitment to originality underscores that design clients who are willing to commit to original voices, in both the written and the visual, are arguably more likely to create a stronger brand presence.

* Excerpt from The New York Times article about Groupon and the role of clever writing in the company. 

Design Thinking factors the impact of Cultural Context on Design Results

“We all have the same processes and apply the same techniques. What differentiates us is our culture and how our culture shapes how we structure the design process and apply different techniques.”*

While designers across the board employ the same design process, applying industry techniques and the like, what tends to be the differentiating factor between agencies, labs or other design entities, is the cultural context and leadership decisions in which the designers must work. Whether the design process is embraced or smothered by that culture is often the leading factor in the type of design that emerges.

“Design Thinking” is the approach of accounting for the cultural context in which the Design Process is applied. So while the Process may be common across the board, the Thinking is the greater influencer.

While the purpose of this statement seems to seek an answer to why competing companies produce different design results, it seems equally applicable to the greater cultural contexts which each competing business is immersed in: 

• the prevailing attitudes toward business in a given culture
• the prevailing attitudes of the cultural environment at large (city, nation, country, etc).

Design Thinking gives some insight into the varying degrees of successful innovation between varying teams.

*Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, Sohrab Vossoughi, Founder & President of Ziba Design, and Jesse James Garrett, President of Adaptive Path, at the the DMI Conference 2009.