There is no shortage of aspirational chatter about design in the business community. Designers and MBAs alike are dreaming of design lead futures. Hey, I'm right there with them, but sometimes I think it's good to remind ourselves of the specific value design brings to the table—if for no other reason than to make sure we're actually capitalizing on the promise of design.
There are, of course, many aspects of design that hold great promises for the world of business. I've come to depend on one in particular that deserves our attention:
Design, as an alignment tool, aims to express ideas and points of view that elicit a reaction from others. Its express purpose is to make ideas tangible, pull them out of the abstract and give them form. Until we're able to give an idea form, we're often unable to connect our ideas with the ideas of others.
Giving ideas form often starts with a story. The problem with stories however, is that they change based on who is telling the story. Don't get me wrong, story is a powerful tool in your tool belt, but give those stories form by applying design as soon as possible.
The majority of my work over the past two decades has been focused on digital product design. For many of those years, teams spent countless hours thinking and writing and thinking some more about what the software should do. They would create stacks of documentation, and swirl in the details until stakeholders tapped out with fatigue. Once everyone was satisfied with the amount of words on a page, the project was moved in to the design and build phase, and inevitably, as soon as those ideas had form, stakeholders had something they could react to. You can imagine what those conversations were like: Wait, that's not at all what I meant-or-where did that come from?
Now days, I advocate and fight for bringing design practices all the way to the front of the product definition phase, constantly bringing form to ideas, starting with design research.
If you haven't leveraged design to align, let me suggest starting with something simple. The next time you're in a meeting, and words aren't getting you anywhere, grab a marker and step up to the white board and draw the ideas. I know that some of you get a little anxious about the idea of drawing, but I'm not suggesting that you need to be an artist. You know how to draw shapes and stick figures, so use those forms to express ideas, and echo back the ideas you're hearing. You'll be amazed at how quickly a little design can bring clarity and alignment.
As you ratchet up your design skills, consider using diagrams, wireframes and even context scenarios to facilitate alignment. It doesn't take a lot, but every bit of design you can bring to the conversation, the easier it becomes to realize alignment.