Recently, I found myself trying to quantify what design brings to the table in an organization. There’s general agreement in the business world that design is important, but everyone wants data to back up just how important it is — especially when it comes to the bottom line.
In considering this, I’ve come to the following conclusions (which is not based on data analysis, so it probably won’t help me much in the real world):
- Bad designers subtract value from an organization or project. They take otherwise good ideas and projects, developed carefully over time by experts, and make them look amateur, untrustworthy, unimportant. A bad designer is a liability to the team from the beginning.
- Good designers add value. They take a project that might pass unnoticed and dress it up so that people sit up and pay attention. Good designers are trend-usavvy but not trend slaves, using their skills to make a project or company more important or exciting or authentic because of their smart and skillful work.
- Great designers don’t add value; they free pre-existing potential value. They don’t try to dress anything up. They take the time to understand the passion that drives great work, and then use design to remove obstacles so that the audience can connect with the passion and excellence of the work.
This theory obviously presumes that the work the designer is involved with is of high caliber, but in my experience, clients are usually passionate about what they’re doing, somewhere up the food chain. The trick is to listen to that passionate person and let their love for what they’re doing infect you, and then share that love with the audience through design.
I often hear designers referred to as artists, creating “masterpieces” that “add so much to the project.” I think that at our best, we should be miners, finding the diamonds of passion and meaning that are hidden in poor communication, and cutting and polishing them so that the greatness that was always inside a project has the chance to finally shine through.