Can Organizations Have Intuitive Design?

Our first panel from Design Public (What do Designers do? How can Physical, Informational and Interaction Design Impact the Everyday Life of Citizens?) was an especially rich discussion.

We covered a lot of territory, but one of the most interesting areas was a debate that asked: how do you allow the messy, disorganized process of innovation to flourish in government systems that thrives on straightforward, measurable, efficient processes?

Photo by Isriya Paireepairit

The debate kicked off when Silas Grant of the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology shared a story about the creation of the London tube map. The designer had taken an old, complicated version of the tube map and created a more simplified version that focused less on geographical accuracy and more on ease of understanding. The government body responsible for the system did not like the design and was highly skeptical at first. However, the map became a great success and has been the inspiration for the maps of the system even today, as well as inspiring the maps of subway systems in other countries as well.

This launched the panel into a discussion of whether it is better to have a formalized process for design, or if it is better to allow designers the leeway to make decisions based on what they think is best.

As moderator Sunil Abraham put it: “Can organizations have intuitive design? Or does process kill it?”

Silas argued that the moral of the London tube map story is that a designer’s intuition can prove to be correct even when the solution is not obvious or the answer is unpopular. And for this reason, he argued, it’s vital to protect a designer’s ability to make decisions as they see fit.

Naresh Narasimhan of Venkataramanan Associates

The tension between a designer’s intuition and the demands of a bureaucracy connect with a recent article by Bruce Nussbaum. In trying to plot the legacy (and the future) of Design Thinking, Nussbaum describes why Design Thinking has connected so well with the business world:

Design Thinking originally offered the world of big business–which is defined by a culture of process efficiency–a whole new process that promised to deliver creativity. By packaging creativity within a process format, designers were able to expand their engagement, impact, and sales inside the corporate world. Companies were comfortable and welcoming to Design Thinking because it was packaged as a process.

But Nussbaum argues that this resulted in compromises of the creative process:

But in order to appeal to the business culture of process, it was denuded of the mess, the conflict, failure, emotions, and looping circularity that is part and parcel of the creative process.

Like private businesses, government organizations rely on a culture of process efficiency. And as several of our participants pointed out, government has additional requirements for accountability, requiring the use of different metrics for progress.

Niels Hansen relayed his experience working with Denmark’s MindLab: “Government has to be accountable, but the problem is ‘what are we measuring?’… You have to be clear about whether this is a good measurement of your end-goal. In the public sector, we’re not good at visualizing our end goals…”

This entry was posted in Design!publiC. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *