You, the analyst and business person, would never call yourself a designer. But why aren’t you thinking like one?
This article is mainly intended for functional and business analysts, or everyone who thinks design is only about fonts and gradients, and MacBooks.
I believe the typical designer mindset and their way of working, is immensely valuable today — and even more so in the future.
It’s a long read, so I’ve split it up in several chapters below:
1 — You don’t know what design is — 📍 You are here
2 — Let’s trigger your design brain
3 — Start doing design thinking
4 — How to infect a large organisation with design
Chapter 1 — Intro: You don’t know what design is.
Often, design is stereotyped as the secret sauce, that special little extra topping that makes a product truly great. We tend to think about Eames chairs, Lamborghini’s, Kanye’s Merchandising or those sleek Dribbble shots. That’s only one part/layer of design.
However, a Lambo wouldn’t be great without a monstrous engine, a perfect click when putting on your seatbelt, the sales guy who knows what you want to hear or the interface on your GPS. A Lamborghini consists of many layers. And so does design.
As lovely explained by Digital Scientists, design can consist of service design, product design, user experience design, interface design and visual design. I’d like to add that those lists aren’t in any way complete or necessary. Great design can even purposefully lack some of those features — or try to exploit them in an all new way: think about the “off-white” apparel.
It makes sense that a PRODUCT has multiple layers, so why shouldn’t DESIGN have that too? Perhaps 50 years ago, design was the catch-all terminology, but now we have explored way more domains of expertise on design. These are some of the ones I like in my everyday life:
- When my phone has no internet connection, Spotify will automatically suggest to play my downloaded playlists
- I can pay my online shopping, days after I made the order
- My car shuts off its engine when waiting for a red light
- When typing an e-mail and I include the text “attachment”, the e-mail client will ask me to include an attachment
- Nike lets me try out shoes, and return them. And when I chat with on of their support employees (or bots), they’ll even immediately ship me a better fit pair of shoes
And so many more. Remember that famous Steve Jobs quote, from an article about the original iPod:
‘’Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like,’’ says Steve Jobs, Apple’s C.E.O. ‘’People think it’s this 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.’’
I agree. But also, design is about a lot of other things too — a working product is therefore merely the basics. No one cares about a great front end, when the back end simply does not work. It’s the beauty in getting all those layers to work together that achieves a truly great product.
That’s why I’d think functional analysts, business analysts (or whatever you’d like to call them), are crucial in today’s working environments: they are key in crafting solutions.
Design is about crafting a solution. The iPod works great as a solution for music on the go. The scroll-wheel is simple and solves the problem of navigating between many songs. But everything put together: that’s the true experience.
And consider the trend of valuing design & business. Business strategy may become become interjacent with design, transformation and agility. InVision talks about ‘the rise of the business designer:”
“A business designer has the head of a business person, the heart of a designer, and the ability to understand and communicate across the full lifecycle of a product.”
They make a valid point. So, how do you trigger your design brain then?
❤️ 🧠 ✏️
Chapter 2 — Trigger your design brain
Tekken. More specifically, Tekken 3. A game I used to play on the Playstation. You choose a character and fight another character. Repeat the process and you win the tournament. Let’s use the game to trigger that specific part of your brain that designers use.
One of the game’s characters is Eddy Gordo. A Brazilian guy that dances his opponents to KO. He’s fun, stylish and flashy.
His counterpart is Forrest Law. He is an advocate of the martial arts: the tighter, more composed fighting style. Forrest is precise and strict.
Let’s say Eddy is a designer and Forrest is an analyst. We’ll take four key attributes of their personality to trigger your design brain.
Trigger 1 | Perspective.
Usually, analyst are keen on serving the business. Serving their problems and meeting their requirements. I too, used to write down many requirements in chunky Excel files, only to be lost while creating v23.final of the document. It’s honest work, but it serves the business.
Forrest Law, the analyst, serves the business. These questions may therefore sound familiar:
- How will every part of the business cope with the users’ actions?
- What’s the ROI?
- How can we make the internal process shorter, better?
Eddy on the other hand, will aim his perspective to users. Or as they’re more commonly known: “humans”. Instead of asking what the business wants, ask the business what the user wants and how the business can fill that void. And if you don’t know, that’s fine. Ask people. Gather data, learn. I still love the example from Starbucks’ founder, Howard Schultz:
“We are not in the coffee business serving people, but in the people business serving coffee.”
Trigger 2 | Stakeholders
Oh, those stakeholders. Love ’em, hate em. They can often be vital to keep your programme or product moving forward and are also powerful enough to shut it down completely.
Forrest would try to understand the ancient masters of martial arts. What were there KPI’s? What is their goal? — And how can I support that goal? That is what an analyst does: understanding the stakeholders. When a stakeholders implies a new idea, try to make it work as good as possible. Again: very valid tactic, but it’s using the analytic part of your brain.
Eddy will do something similar, yet completely different: listen to the stakeholders, but — here it comes — shape them. Don’t execute their ideas without challenging them, but focus your energy on creating, ideating and forging a vision about something.
In my experience, a designer will shape the stakeholders into a larger dream, that is more about transformation, than about KPI’s. More specifically, I argue this comes down to creativity and pragmatism. When you can combine the effective design and business — you’ve got gold. Gradually, you’ll understand the power of great design.
For example: Eddy’s stakeholder will tell him to design an app to fix the stakeholders’ problem.
Eddy, on the other hand, will ask what problem they really want to fix and that an app may be a solution, but it’s just one solution. Eddy will focus his time on facilitating workshops, challenging ideas and breaking down walls.
Eddy shapes the stakeholders into thinking big.
Trigger 3 | Vision
Forrest Law, the analyst, will be mainly tasked with solving a problem. The stakeholders or business are interested in putting a band aid on a busted knee — which makes sense — but should be triggered to think about the entire process: how did the accident happen? Is there something else that needs to be fixed? Should we even fix something?
A couple of techniques are useful to inspire vision: 5 why’s (ask why enough times to get to the real problems), use analogies (e.g. think about the same situation but with a football team: what would makes sense then?), brainstorming (no bad ideas), … and so many more.
The one I prefer, is thinking about the ideal situation. What does the company, with unlimited resources, want to be? What does the person involved in that specific context, do?
In summary, vision and shaping the stakeholders are closely related. But be aware of vision that is pushed by management, and is executed by your stakeholders. Then, it’s more orders than vision.
Trigger 4 | Research
Finally, let’s look at a very tangible aspect of a design brain. Forrest Law will look at the current situation, and what needs to improve for that specific situation. He “Reads the f*cking manual.” Analysts are often (unfairly) pushed in the role of reading the instructions first, then solving the problem.
However, Eddy Gordo takes a different approach. He tends to ask questions and tries to find answers to those questions. It can feel like over-analysing, but in practice, the most basic of questions will cause the stakeholder to rethink their proposition — even in massive organisations.
An example: our team was tasked with developing a time management tool, to help the users with their time registrations (people are obliged to register when they start working). We were asked to improve the process, to make it better in every way.
However, when we triggered our design brains, we started asked questions. Turns out, most people don’t want to spend time registering time (pardon the pun).
We quickly realised the process of registering time wasn’t the problem to solve, yet the feeling of losing time when waiting for your slow computer to turn on, was. We suggested to look at the journey when our colleagues started their day: entering the office, losing 5 minutes of your time when the pc booted, navigating to a certain page, and clicking the clock-button.
The suggestion we provided was providing a ‘start my day’ flow, which follows your day;
- We recognise you’re in the office (wifi or whatever method)
- The app knows this too,
- and you are greeted with the message: “Do you want to start your day?”
- Time is registered,
- And we can provide a meaningful context: time registration + today’s menu + your first meeting starts in 10 minutes + remember to leave at 16:00 to pick up your kids + …
It’s a great example regarding the four trigger/shifts between an analyst and a designer:
1 | Take the right perspective. This world is about humans, not businesses.
2 | Shape stakeholders. Challenge them.
3 | Don’t be afraid to create vision. Do a little Steve Jobs perhaps.
4 | And back it up with good research, from the right sources.
Designer versus Analyst?
So, does this mean that designers and analysts should be fighting then? Well, I’d argue: no. They shouldn’t. It makes more sense to be more like Mokujin. Allow me to explain.
Mokujin is another playable character from Tekken, with a special trait: he (or she) copies any fighting style, of any character. You don’t know which fighting style you get when selecting Mokujin. It’s only when starting the game, you realise you’re a martial arts fanatic, or an exotic dancer. Oh yeah, Mokujin is also a tree with metal balls as hands.
The cool thing about Mokujin; he’s a chameleon. He’s flexible and adapts to his situation (sort of).
That’s what I believe, analysts and designers, should do. You have to be able to take on different roles. Pick your battles. Choose your wars. Whatever. Do like David Bowie did, and change your inner self from time to time.
Also, it doesn’t really make sense to apply your newly found design brain in every discussion, nor does it suit every business challenge. There are numerous examples of beautiful design, but failing products.
Or, great services, which look kind of wonky — and people generally tend to buy the competitor’s (lesser) product.
In the end, it’s not a matter of analyst versus designer, but more of being able to put on different hats, and know when to use them.
And how to actually kickstart design, that’s what I’ll discuss in chapter 3. 🚀
Chapter 3 — Start doing design thinking
If you made to this point, awesome. Let’s recap:
1 — You don’t know what design is ,
2 — But you got your design brain triggered,
3 — And now you are ready to Start doing design thinking. — 📍 You are here
Soo.. Design Thinking. Many stuff has been written about it, I’m sure you can find some good examples online. So, let’s not spend too much time on it here. I like to define design thinking as:
Saying goodbye to conventional ways of addressing problems, but more about entering the solution space.
In practice, this usually means following a strict framework to find these solutions, that looks like this:
First, you empathise with the humans you are building something for. Second, you define what the problems really is (remember the 5 why’s). Next, you start generating ideas that can fix the real problem. Afterwards, you try stuff out: explore and prototype potential solutions. And of course, you have to test your solutions to see if it works, and what needs to change.
And more importantly, this framework can jump a few steps or change your prototypes according to new insights you’ve gained while testing. It’s not aimed to be followed completely, it’s more a guideline for:
- Designing the right things (steps 1–3)
- Designing things right (steps 3–5)
If you want to read why I think AirPods are a great example of Design Thinking, you can read about it in my article ➔
Chapter 4 — How to infect a large organisation
When you think all of the above sounds pretty logical and fun in theory, well that’s because it is. In practice, it’s a different ball game. But allow me to show you how I did it in a massive organisation.
Oh boi, the corporate dinosaurs. I have to say, I’m not that fond of them. A lot of their internal processes are slow, employees do the same job and resist change, micro management has grown to a macro scale, ... the list goes on. (start-ups aren’t all good by the way either, but you get the point, you smart reader you).
Let’s think of large organisations as cruise ships. They are great at what they do. They are respected, have an aura of confidence and trustworthiness surrounding them, and usually carry a lot of people. Also, they’re not the fastest, but have a fairly high success rate of reaching their destinations.
So how do you turn around a large cruise ship? These are my tips:
Show, don’t tell.
Whether you consider yourself a designer or an analyst or something in between, always show the way forward with acts, not words. For example: our partner meetings are considered a mini Apple Keynote, where we are the Steve’s at the front, showing off our latest achievements. It’s visual, very simple and easy to understand. Think of it as navigating the cruise ship, step by step.
And, also, show the boring stuff. Don’t be afraid to show something a roadmap, but make it engaging. Imaging you are influencing 2000 share holders to keep investing in you, your product and your team.
That’s pretty rad.
Design for humans
Don’t just build a product, but build something that improves human’s lives. Instead of building an app for your company, try to push the vision that a solution should benefit the humans, not just the company.
Instead of building an app, build something the humans will actually benefit. Think about a thermostat that instead of just setting the temperature, makes many changes according to your Gmail calendar, or when you have friends over. Designing for humans is pretty cool. (remember the product vs experience).
Do it step by step.
“But my company won’t do design.” Well, don’t try to do it all at once, just do it step by step. Don’t think you are going to implement the design mindset in one sweep. But remember the design thinking framework: it’s a step-by-step process.
In my case, I’m confident in prototyping stuff first. The usual way of working was a written list of requirements. By showing the solution that was written down, people immediately started to give fiery feedback. Awesome!
That means we are sort of iterating our design. Stakeholders even suggested to handing these prototypes to user (humans!) and trying out their perspective. They even started to empathise with the people that were going to use that prototype,… See what’s going on here?
Step by step, the design thinking process was being incorporated in the way of working. Not by ‘rolling out a culture of design thinking’, or ‘providing expensive learning courses’, but by actually leading by example. In an organic way, the design thinking approach was nestled into our team, our developers and even our stakeholders.
So. What does this all mean? Should we all start calling ourselves designers? I don’t think so. I think we should learn from designers and learn to think like one.
Because, if we:
1 — Understand we design really is
2 — Use the design part of our brain
3 — Start doing design thinking
well then I think, we are all designers.
❤️ 🧠 ✏️
This article accompanies my talk at BA&Beyond conference in Amsterdam (and online, because 2020). Read more about it here: https://www.ba-beyond.eu/2020-programme.php#conference-amsterdam
Slides can be found here.