Meld Studios Principal, Jeremy Yuille shares his top tips for working designers looking to extend their practice, progress their careers, and become the design leaders of the future.
Yuille is the founding Program Manager of the Master of Design Futures, an accelerated online degree for professional designers.
What advice would you give a working designer who wants to step up into a strategic or leadership role?
To become a design leader, you need to develop the capacity to articulate, frame and deliver the value that design brings to broader contexts – whether that’s business, government or society.
There are a few key things that strategic design leaders need to learn:
- Learn more about yourself – your strengths, weaknesses, worldview, biases
- Learn more about learning – as opposed to teaching
- And learn how to really understand and empathise with the different ways that others see the world.
These three things are really about helping organisations become better at learning and developing their capability to use design themselves. In this context, design is more about deliberate and conscious approaches to making change.
What value can strategic design thinking bring to business, government or non-profit organisations?
The pioneering American environmental scientist, teacher, and writer Dana Meadows once said: “Whatever lens you use to look at a problem, the things you see through that lens are actually there.”
Rather than excellently solving the wrong problem, strategic design thinking can help re-frame and find “better problems”.
Strategic design like that used at Sitra, the Finnish Innovation Fund, helps open up previously stalled decision spaces, by not only designing approaches to the problem, but also the way you look at the problem.
Strategic application of design can also help align diverse stakeholders and teams on big complex projects like the UK Government Digital Service, which our new Prime Minister has cited as a model for the government’s digital strategy.
In that case, it has been invaluable in creating a holistic, people-centred vision of a service, and its research-derived principles help keep that vision alive in the messy implementation phase.
Design sometimes has a reputation as an exclusive in-world, filled with design speak and jargon. How can designers better communicate with non-designers, to better articulate the value of what they do?
It’s vital that designers try to understand how others will experience their work. This is where empathy is key, the ability to recognise someone’s distinctive values and world views, being open to learning from the different way they see the world.
Having an outcomes focus can also help to bridge that gap. Continually ask yourself: “What are we hoping to achieve?”
And find the stories. Stories are one of our oldest technologies: they help people communicate the complexity of design situations while also letting us keep the issues and tensions of the situation open. Stories connect the complexity, so others can engage with it and help us design together.
Forward-thinking organisations that aren’t traditionally in the business of design are looking to use design as a way of encouraging innovation. What qualities and skills does a designer need to develop, in order to take advantage of these opportunities and be effective in this kind of leadership role?
In his recent article for the Harvard Business Review, the vice-president of design at Blackboard and founder and director of Austin Center for Design, Jon Kolko, talks about how design is now being used to design organisations themselves, not just the products they make.
As a designer, to play this kind of role, you need a systemic perspective – the ability to see both the forest and the trees.
Great communication skills are a must, because you need to be able to take people with you – help them see the forest and the trees as well.
Work on your emotional intelligence and many of the other “soft” skills – which are actually hard to develop. It’s essential to be able to work with different kinds of people, who have different types of motivations.
And take on a bias towards action. Develop your ability to identify and undertake the “minimum required action” that will get people involved in change.
Story: Gosia Kaszubska