Understanding and respect
In an organization with a healthy design culture, everyone in the company is taught to understand and respect the value of design.
Elsewhere, design is often misunderstood or maligned as being about “making things look pretty.” When design isn’t properly understood or respected, it often plays second fiddle to engineering and business decisions, resulting in poorer outcomes. In a true design culture, the whole team—including and especially non-designers—understands that design is a holistic and process-driven discipline that should be integrated throughout the organization.
Design culture hinges on an understanding that decisions should be made intentionally. Even the smallest details can add up to produce a massive impact, so a design-centric organization is biased against leaving anything up to chance.
In a healthy design culture, design is applied not only to the product or service an organization produces, but also to the organization itself. Seemingly small details—the lighting, the communication tools, the placement of the coffee machines—are thoughtfully considered. To paraphrase Conway’s Law, products tend to reflect the structure and character of the organizations that produce them. So, a well-designed organization will result in well-designed products and services.
Freedom to fail
Design cultures have a high tolerance for failure. Employees are encouraged to experiment and iterate, with the understanding that this will occasionally lead to mistakes. They should feel free to take risks when appropriate and learn from their mistakes, without fear of being reprimanded or fired.
A true design culture recognizes that what happens after an error is more important than the error itself, and values course-correction more than constantly playing it safe.
Design culture is about rediscovering the human side of business. For much of the 20th century, businesses were driven solely by data and efficiency decisions, often to the detriment of their employees and customers. Things were only valued if they were measurable—if something couldn’t be represented by a point on a graph, it didn’t matter.
In many ways, design culture is a reaction against this data-driven mentality. Of course data is a valuable part of everything—in fact, design should rely on quantitative research as often as possible. But design rejects the idea that efficiency is the sole purpose of an organization. It recognizes that the unmeasurable can be just as important as the measurable, and that emotions are as valid as intellect.
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