Engage silent designers

Design managers in technology-oriented companies often face the challenge to create awareness for design throughout the company. Many design related decisions are made by employees with no or limited design knowledge. Those people are not educated as designers, but make decisions that have an impact on the final design of the product. Two papers from the London Business School by Peter Gorb and Angela Dumas adressed this issue of “Silent Designers” already over twenty years ago (Silent Design and Why Design is Difficult to Manage).

It can be argued that a great deal of design activity goes on in organizations which is not called “design.” It is carried out by individuals who are not called “designers” and who would not consider themselves to be designers.

The idea of the silent designer can be attributed to Herbert Simon. He proposed in his book “The sciences of the artificial” (MIT Press, 1981) that design is a basic human activity and that, actually everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones. This means for design managers (e.g. working in companies with over thousand engineers) that they need to educate in basic design activities and provide tools for designing, if they want to manage the final product, holistically. This can be done for instance via workshops, best practice examples and in-company trainings.

Recently I came across how Nokia is educating non-designers in the basic principles of design. The Nokia design guide helps phone application developers to plan, design, and develop offerings that deliver great user experiences (UX) for Nokia platforms and technologies.

Are silent designers well educated in your own company? If not, develop tools and trainings to engage them, it will make your life as design manager much easier.