Design Management & Cultures
Discussed Topics: the paradox of intangible processes, my design strategist rationale, a critic of DMC programme structure
Blog Post Objective: Evaluate the role that design plays in a complex, networked and technologically driven world
This term, while working with a global multibrand retailer like Selfridges, challenging myself with an omnichannel brand strategy for Mary Kay and receiving guidance from well-established strategists from the URGE, I have finally started to tune in with the integrity and core of my specific design practice. During the second term of DPS, I have committed more time to craft my practice in strategy and business analysis. As a result, I managed to paint the bigger picture as to what design means to me and my future professional path. I have also finally realized where and how design strategy and I fit (spoiler alert: or not fit) into the current environment of the creative industry.
In this blog post, I decided to focus on deciphering design practice and its broad range of academic definitions and bringing my personal take to the design strategy field after working as a strategist during my DPS year. By the agency of my blog explorations, these insights helped me to start the process of reflecting on and evaluating the current state of design management and cultures major. When drafting my points and finding my answer to the assigned topics of this terms blog entry, I landed on three main insights I wanted to bring up and discuss.
Insight #1: Design is in everything but it’s also nowhere to be found. It produces tangible outcomes but a lot of times it’s intangible itself. With the paradox of its existence, what is design, really?
From the literature review standpoint, design and its practice have seen major shifts in its position outside of creative practices since the rise of neoliberalism and change within the economics of design. (Julier, 2017) With the transitional pillars of deregulation in the 80s and the rise of the New Economy, design practice has been expanded onto new territories of capitalistic improvements. As design practitioners focused on the grey areas of system and product iterations, the field itself started to expand with the needs of new business ventures and dilemmas.
With the societal increase in “better and “newer” objects and services, design has evolved into interdisciplinary specialisms and areas of practice. Nevertheless, with its rapid evolutions, some design practitioners propose the definition and core of design that have stayed constant throughout these times. For example, Lutop (2017) describes the concept of design as “an art of thinking ahead” and positions its practice as a “time based interactive enterprise”. From a perspective of a design scholar, whom I see myself as, design is the hidden process. It is a plan behind developed products, services, experiences and systems. The practice of design itself could be seen as a structured and executed purpose, method or process, a design specialist creates to bring a solution to a given problem or a task.
There are designers who focus on more tangible products, materials or digital interfaces or designers who work with system creation or facilitation of specific experiences. The list goes on. Besides designers in the creative industry, there are also designers in the non-creative fields; disguised by the ordinary or categorized by the language used in specific business settings. Personally, after going through 3 years of education in the field of design management, gaining experience in the real world, working with clients from different industries, I finally am starting to get a feel on where I place myself in that space.
I am business-minded. I love to piece together the bigger picture. When I look into a business case, I focus on its brand’s values, organizations foundations, business model mechanics and design potential. I design with system integration and long term sustainable solution flashing in my mind from the beginning of my working process. I thrive on research, data, analysis but equally prosper in ambiguous and complex systems. I am creative but calculated. I am curious but structured. I am a design strategist… but there is more complexity to me as a professional than this single label “job” description.
Insight #2: Strategy knows how to evaluate the microcosm, then analyse the bigger picture, and propose a plan. Design thieves of purpose-driven actions and puts the plan into effective processes that spark innovation and new developments.
As summarized by Stevens (2009) in his writing on design as a strategic resource, the strategic design field focuses on improving and maintaining performance and process in business or NGOs. During this spring term, I have learnt how to juggle the process of strategy creation and design implementation. When working with a business the key to design strategist work is not only understanding the issue of design implementations for a brand but operationalizing the strategy for a business. It’s about bridging the gap between the data-driven, performance-oriented roam of the business world and the ever-changing bigger picture of the complex and networked societies, economies and organizations.
Especially right now, as we are entering a new year of dealing with the challenges of pandemic restrictions, the work of business leaders has to see fundamental changes within the management of both their teams and organizations. The mindset has to shift from focusing on the day to day implementations and keeping the business “on the float” to strategizing for the future of the brand and people involved in it.
Finally, after looking at the bigger picture of the professional landscape and its role in the current industry environment, I decided to look back at the micro-level development of my own profession. Moreover, the nature of a strategist, my interdisciplinary practice and the experiences I went through this term, made me question the current approach to my specific course and its future.
Insight #3: Coming from a Design Management and Cultures major, a hybrid of design practices and management sciences, I exist in the duality of wow’s (ways of working).
This realm comes with exciting opportunities for innovative interventions in its practice but it also brings out the more evident struggles of the “grey area” nature of the field. While I can recognize the opportunities UAL has brought when introducing this major to its design school programmes, after diving into the DPS experiences, I believe that the field of design management requires a stronger connection with economic science and business school faculty.
The nature of newly emerged interdisciplinary design-led practices has created an urge for adequate higher education programmes. However, as the fields developed rapidly in multidisciplinary work environments, the educational institutions have not been able to accommodate their courses for the nature and needs of such practices yet. This discovery proposes a new challenge for both academic professionals and design practices to further research and ideate new solution, technologies and sustainable strategies for interdisciplinary course creation and programme developments. Considering my course is a part of this equation, I am thinking of putting these insights forward and possibly developing a solution in my final year of Design Management and Cultures undergraduate degree.
Julier, G. (2017) ‘Economies of design’. SAGE Publications.
Lupton, E. (2017) ‘Design is storytelling’. New York, NY: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.
Stevens, J (2009) ‘Design as a strategic resource’. Design Management Group, University of Cambridge