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Why Design Matters, and Why It Deserves a Greater Focus




Design is so critical it should be on the agenda of every meeting in every single
department – Tom Peters, 2003

When people speak of “design,” it is commonly in the context of aesthetics: jewelry, fashion, homes,

buildings, decorations. These are clearly design-driven industries, and the products from these industries

evoke an aesthetic response from people. Yet, these are designs driven by style and taste: one might like

a certain kind of metal for jewelry, and one might like a southwestern-style home. These design choices

are clear and drive differentiation in these markets.

The value of design is not as clear to many, however, is when it‟s divorced from the aesthetic and stylistic

aspects of a product or service. This is particularly the case in the technology and information

management sectors. Yet, it is in these very rapidly evolving sectors where a focus on design can make

the biggest impact on our lives, and on society. To help draw attention to this critical aspect of design,

this paper aspires to advance the assertion that design is undervalued in many areas of business

(particularly in information and technology), is a critical component within problem solving and

innovative processes, and can enable unrealized efficiencies -- and even create delight.

Defining Design
“Design” is a broadly used term that contextually and linguistically creates a set of challenges for the

concept itself. If there is no clear definition or singular context of a concept, how effectively can the

concept be shared and built upon in a field or domain? According to Wikipedia, the term “design” can

be ambiguous depending on the context: design in art, design in engineering, design in production,

process design, and organizational design1. Each context recasts “design” as a very different concept.

For instance, design‟s role in art is conceptually quite different from the role of design in organizational

strategy. In engineering, design is commonly viewed as mission-critical to ensure safety and longevity in

From the Wikipedia entry for “design”
deliverables. The term “design” also faces linguistic challenges, as definitions vary from the popular

(“the creative art of executing aesthetic designs” and “decorative patterns”) to the sublime (“arranging of

elements or details”).

Saddled with contextual and linguistic ambiguity, it should be of no great surprise that business has had a

difficult time wrestling with how to consistently apply design appropriately. To advance the concept of

design, it is this author‟s opinion that a single context and definition must be developed to coalesce the

existing divergent meanings and contexts. For the purposes of this study (and to provide reference-able

framework for others‟ future study in this domain), the following is a proposal for a singular definition

and context of design:

Design bridges the gap between what is available and what is needed or desired.

In this definition, design is a concept (noun)

that is defined and contexted broadly

enough to apply to all existing contexts and

conceptual definitions. In addition, this

definition also gives design a specific

position in the continuum of current state

(what is available) and the future state

(what is needed or desired).

In this definition, “what is available” is a conceptual umbrella which includes knowledge and accessible

materials and technology, which together provide us with existing and potential capabilities. “What is

needed or desired” is a separate and distinct conceptual umbrella referring to the solutions to identified

problems, concerns, complexity and limitations.

In Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi‟s book “Creativity,” the otherwise common term “creativity” is more

distinctly defined to further the area of study around creativity. In doing this, Csikszentmihalyi
established the concept of “capital C creativity” (i.e., “Creativity”) to contrast his specific definition of

creativity as compared to the existing and well-known lexicon. Similar to Csikszentmihalyi‟s concept of

“capital C” Creativity to recontext a generally used, multi-contextual term, we can also refer to this as

“capital D” Design.2

The “Design Gap” (a term created by the author and advanced through this study) represents the condition

where not enough focus (time, effort, resources) sufficiently and/or effectively bridges the gap between

what is available and what is needed or desired. While it might not be immediately obvious, the result

of Design Gaps directly impacts people, industries, economies, and even our natural environment.

To back up this claim, this paper will outline some of the issues we face as a result of from poor design,

identify the reasons why there are so many Design Gaps, review case studies of good design approaches,

and finally review the value of applying a proper focus on design in most any area within organizations.

Issues Surrounding Poor Design

Clive Grinyer, director of Design for Orange Telecommunications, as well as director of design and

innovation for Europe‟s Design Council, says “Design is probably the largest, unmanaged,

misunderstood, and ill-used activity in most organizations.” 3 This resonates with management guru Tom

Peter‟s assessment at the start of this paper, and further makes the case that the concept of design is sorely

missing from many – if not most – organizations. Why do these and other thought leaders put such a

heavy emphasis on design? One reason could be that people who understand the value of design are

much more attuned to the problems and failures that result from a lack of sufficient investment in design,

and the results of poor design. These problems and failures include inefficiencies, inaccuracies, steep

“Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention,” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Harper Perennial,
Clive Grinyer, “Defining Design” – Presentation for Penn‟s 2007 seminar in Paris, France: DYNM782 Strategic
and Socio-Cultural Issues in Innovation and Creativity
learning curves, excess capacity/waste, and mediocre user experiences. The following are some tangible

examples of these design problems and failures:


A poorly designed process does not efficiently utilize the capabilities, technology or knowledge available

to that process. For example, the annual U.S. Census process was designed when there were under 50

million Americans. As a result, it was feasible to attempt to physically count each citizen for the census


As America‟s population exploded to 300 million, the process is now quite inefficient as it requires a

virtual army of census enumerators (inefficient utilization of resources) to attempt to account for each

citizen. Combined with this inefficient utilization of resources, modern statistical modeling – using

sampling techniques that are proven to be more accurate than enumerating – is now available, yet not

utilized (inefficient utilization of knowledge/technology). 4


A poorly designed tool does not accurately anticipate the actual usage behavior by the intended user.

Poorly designed tools pervade high-technology, and due to the tremendous capabilities available, this

trend is likely to continue. It is important to distinguish “intended use” from “unintended use” because

tools simply cannot be designed for every possible use or user.

For instance, in the United States‟ 2000 presidential voting process, the state of Florida was the target of

national ire when it was revealed that the ballot design in certain counties appeared to encourage

inaccuracy in voting on at least two fronts:

The National Academy of Sciences has repeatedly endorsed sampling as a way of conducting a more cost-effective
and more accurate census, as have professional societies like the American Statistical Association.
Source: American Association for the Advancement of Science, July 1997
1. In Dade County, FL, the “butterfly ballot” did not properly align the hole punch with the

candidate. As a result of this design flaw, many voters complained that they might have

accidentally voted for the wrong candidate

2. In much of Florida, the punch ballot design created a recount nightmare for officials as problems

like “hanging chads” threw into question what constituted an actual vote.

In this case, the design of the ballot itself did not anticipate typical user interaction, nor did it take into

account the challenges of a recount process.

Conversely, a well-designed tool anticipates the usage and provides an experience and feedback in an

expected, efficient matter. Examples of well-designed technology-based tools include the television, the

radio, the Apple iPod, and the telephone. All of these tools are able to pervade society and provide

transformative value due to their usability design matching the intended need or desire.

Steep learning curves

Steep learning curves are essentially another type of inefficiency – inefficiency in human capital. People

are one of the most flexible and valuable resources on earth, and a poor design can eat into people‟s

valuable time and energy. Examples of this are everywhere, ranging from the Microsoft Windows

operating system, to programming a VCR, to trying to copy a CD to a portable digital music player. It is

arguable that the entire industry of “tech support” is an indicator of poor design. After all, the expense of

technical support (from both the provider and receiver sides) is required when an intended operation is not

obvious or efficient for the intended user. Steep learning curves are not limited to technology-related

products and tools, however. A poorly designed business process may be so complex as to require extra

training for the participants, whereas a properly designed process with the same inputs and outputs might

not require as much training – thereby reducing inefficiencies in human capital. Similarly, a poorly

designed marketing campaign might require a consumer to think or work too much to understand a

product‟s value proposition. This inefficiency in consumer human capital can lead to slow sales growth.
Excess capacity/waste

A poor design does not efficiently match up what is needed and what is available, which leaves the

potential for excess capacity, or worse, waste. Common examples of this problem are generally a result

of a lack of design or outdated design.

Outdated design is just that – a design that has outlived its original objectives based on a changed

environment, usage landscape or needs. Examples of outdated designs that create excess capacity/waste


 Fast food restaurant design. Timothy Jones, a University of Arizona archaeologist who headed

up a federal study on food waste, says the massive waste costs the fast-food industry $30 billion

to $35 billion a year and could be solved by redesigning stores [emphasis by author] to include

proper storage areas and refrigerators. "By spending $50 million to $60 million, they could save

$5 billion," Jones said.5

 The gas turbine engine-based automobile. Toyota has demonstrated with their Prius that there are

many sources of wasted energy in the traditional automobile, and that Toyota‟s innovative

technologies are beginning to re-capture excess waste in a traditional car. For instance, the

energy created by breaking can now be stored and re-used for acceleration. Other recent patents

have shown progress in using the heat from engine exhaust to heat the engine block, increasing

fuel efficiency. In addition, recirculation of the exhaust air within the engine reduces the amount

of waste sent to the air.6

“Food Waste Costing Economy $100 Billion, Study Finds”, Scripps Howard News Service, Lance Gay, August 10,
University Of Florida (1998, May 18). Modified Gas Turbine Engine Cuts Fuel Costs and Lowers Emissions.
ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 24, 2007, from
Mediocre user experiences

Seemingly less urgent to business would be the issue of mediocre experiences. “Good enough” design

seems to dominate the mass market. This makes economic sense, as design is a costly process, and in a

market of negligible margins, organizations can only invest so much in idealized or optimal design. In

fact, over-designing a solution can render a product or service uncompetitive. However, the converse of

this is worth focusing on: great user experiences provide brands the market headroom to grow into the

premium space. In other words, while designing for the middle will generally guarantee middling

margins, designing optimal experiences provides the opportunity to maximize margins.

An example from the technology sector can provide a suitable illustration of this dynamic: Apple vs.

IBM-compatible PCs. Apple invests a great deal of resources in designing a total user experience for

their PCs, ranging from hardware aesthetics, to software ease-of-use, to complimentary on-line services,

and even emotional impact. This end-to-end user experience management allows Apple to sell less

technology for more money. Any given Apple PC has less power than its PC equivalent at the same price

point. This approach to marketing has been very beneficial to Apple‟s brand, valuation, and bottom line.

Design and Technology

The information and technology sectors did not evolve from fields where aesthetics, safety and longevity

were core to the basic value proposition. Instead, software arose from developing and storing highly

complex mathematical formulas (spreadsheets), and quickly evolved into replacing the typewriter (word

processing), and from there, into numerous branches that serve business and consumers. As a result,

software‟s primary focus is on functionality, accuracy, reliability, and extensibility. However, computing

technology has doubled every 18 months (according to Moore‟s Law), enabling software to do much

more, which adds to its potential complexity. The natural urge of software manufacturers is to add

additional features as they become available, which leads to software interfaces that reflect a barrage of

information. This can often leave a user frustrated and inefficient as they try to wade through the various

features to get their job done. Worse, it appears that many consumers and users of technology have
become used to being confused and frustrated by technology7. If expectations are lowered, there is a risk

that many organizations will choose not to focus on these design challenges.

Another serious design challenge in technology is the immergence of information management. Not so

long ago, a consumer would watch video programs on their television, listen to the radio using an

AM/FM radio, receive and send mail through the postal service, and talk to friends on the telephone.

Information (be it news, entertainment, email, instant messages, documents, etc.) is now being

transmitted, received, and displayed using new technologies, new platforms, and new information

pipelines. The result is a new information environment where content is available from more sources

(traditional networks, cable networks, social media networks, web sites), through more devices

(television, portable media players, computers, cell phones) and more rapidly than ever before. Merely

twenty years ago, the only way to instantly communicate with a distant friend would be the telephone.

Now, the options have expanded to telephone, voice-over-IP, blogs, instant messages, e-mail,

SMS/texting, Facebook, MySpace, and more. The results of this shift in information availability and

distribution are disruptive in both social and economic ways – confusion is created and misinformation

thrives due to the lack of a complete redesign around how people aggregate, coalesce, and filter

information from the myriad of information sources. Worse, people are now making decisions based on

incomplete or inaccurate information as a result of this new information-rich environment. For instance,

when major network news dominated the distribution of news information, there were only so many ways

to interpret the news. Today, a typical connected person can get their news from a variety of sources,

sometimes without being aware of the quality or particular perspective of the news aggregator or

distributor. The consumer of news now bears the burden of decoding and filtering the news options that

are currently available.

Around 90% of online users have problems completing Internet transactions, according to a survey conducted by
Harris Interactive in 2005 ( And in a USA/Gallop poll, 64% said they have trouble trying to
figure out how to use their gadgets most or all of the time (2005) (
Another example of where information availability and technology-driven distribution collide is in the

sphere of business information systems. Business information systems provide management with metrics

of all measured organizational processes so that they can make informed decisions. However, if this

information system is designed around what is available instead of what is needed, management risks

getting a skewed view of reports that focus on the easiest and more efficient areas of the business to

measure (ie., financials, customer service tickets, headcount turn-over, days-to-fill positions, etc.). The

more difficult to measure areas (client loyalty, employee loyalty, creativity, innovation, political

pressures) are generally not reported, providing management with an incomplete picture of the

organization. Typically, a business information system is purchased from an enterprise software vendor

(such as SAP or Oracle) and is installed, configured and populated with information that is readily

available. This systems-based design is common because it is the most efficient to setup, configure, and

launch – key goals for an MIS team. Conversely, a well-design business system would be configured,

customized, and populated based solely on the decisions that management needs to make. This decision-

based design might very well be more costly to implement and take more time, but the ultimate value

would be higher because the extra effort was made to bridge the design gap between what was available

to the systems team, and what was needed by the executive team.

Technology and design problems aren‟t limited to computers and software. In general, people are

increasingly challenged to utilize technology of all types effectively. For instance, most have heard of

the “blinking 12:00 AM” VCR epidemic, where a vast majority of VCR owners couldn‟t figure out how

to program the time into their VCRs. This is just the tip of the figurative iceberg, however. Take one of

the most widely used technologies in the world – the television – and see the emerging design gap in

action: While traditional televisions were very well designed for mass audiences, the new crop of high-

definition televisions (HDTV) are available in so many different technologies (LCD, Plasma, DLP, LCoS,

RPTV, SED, etc.) and need to work with so many different broadcasting standards (ATSC, QAM,

NTSC), and support so many different types of high-definition (480p, 720p, 1080i, 1080p), that a
consumer practically needs to be an engineer in order to determine the right television for them. This is

an example of device-based design (i.e., each device is designed well for itself) vs. market-based design

(i.e., in conjunction, the various TV technologies do not serve the market well as it creates confusion and

uncertainty, which slows sales across the entire market).

Reasons for the Design Gap, Part I: A Focus on What is Available

It is not entirely by accident that there are so many design gaps in products and services. While this

paper has asserted that contextual issues surrounding the definition of design contribute to the problem,

there are more tangible and straight-forward factors at work.

Overwhelming potential

A good case can be made that there is little need to invest in a design process if the raw capabilities

available are all that are needed to solve a problem. With the massive amounts of science, theory,

technology, and knowledge available to solve problems, sometimes it can appear most efficient to directly

solve a problem with an existing capability. For instance, today‟s personal computers have ten times the

power of the most powerful computer on earth in 1983, today‟s CPUs are faster than 95% existing

applications need to run at full speed, the entire human genome is decoded, and wired and wireless

technologies span the globe – enabling almost limitless access to information.

All of this potential helps nurture a “use what is available” or “leverage” culture in organizations.

Anecdotally, ask yourself how many times you or your colleagues have asserted that the best way forward

was to leverage something that already exists? The “leverage” approach to problem solving might help

with immediacy, but it also has the effect of reducing the focus on design.

Design costs

Design is a relatively expensive front-end process. Design requires creativity, discipline, research, time,

and focus – all of which require resources to be invested in prior to implementing a solution. Conversely,

leveraging what is available is (at least initially) less expensive, easier to understand, faster to implement,
and simpler to explain. In today‟s workplace where time is money and complexity adds risk, speed, and

simplicity are attributes that many executives are looking for when proposals are being made. As a

result, the “leverage” approach is seen as culturally amenable, leaving very little political and financial

breathing room for the design-focused approach.

Reasons for the Design Gap, Part II: Not Enough Effort in Assessing What is
Needed or Desired
The reasons and rationales for focusing on the what is available side of the Design Gap have been

reviewed and explained. But before we can fully understand how to bridge the gap, we also must fully

understand the factors behind the other side of the gap: what is needed or desired. Assessing this side of

the gap requires domain expertise, exploration, research, empathy, and testing/observation. As mentioned

above, these activities are relatively expensive, but the outcomes of this process can lead to rewards that

create a great return on investment (ROI).

Domain expertise requires involving people with experience within the environment for which a problem

is trying to be solved. Those who understand the domain are familiar with the fundamentals and do not

have to re-learn the basics during the research process. Good research requires expertise to ensure that

the right questions (and follow-up questions) are asked so that the most relevant information is evoked

from the subjects. That said, there should be a member of the research team who does not have domain

expertise to help ensure the exploration process is broad and creative enough to drum up new possibilities

that can only emerge when a „fresh set of eyes‟ adds their perspective on the status quo.

Empathy is a required trait when trying to learn what is needed or desired. In fact, deep understanding of

the needs or desires is arguably the most important aspect of the design process. If hubris gets in the way

of learning what is truly needed or desired, there is a much greater chance of designing a solution for the

researchers themselves or internal management – not the intended audience. Once the researchers

believe they have successfully identified what is needed or desired, testing and ongoing monitoring must

be the next step in order to ensure that the investment in the new offering really does address the need.
Bridging the Gap: Case Studies
Both sides of the design gap have been reviewed: what is available and what is needed or desired. When

both sides are brought together into a single framework, this approach can strategically reconfigure

existing resources in new ways to solve new problems. The following cases exemplify how a proper

design phase aided in solving problems that were not immediately obvious or clear at first glance. Yet, by

bridging the Design Gap, these cases demonstrate new levels of value that were otherwise not even

considered as part of the original problem.

Case Study: Employee Intranet

“What is available” vs. “What is needed” plays out in approach to business system design

The situation: During the five years that an existing employee intranet supported a global, mid-sized firm,

there were many changes in and around the business environment:

 Business went global (vs. international)

 Strategic focus put into professional services/consulting division

 Change in employee make-up (shift from data center/technical operations to a mix of IT and

 Requisite shift in company focus and brand – from a pharmaceutical data provider to a
pharmaceutical intelligence firm

 Lack of focus in internal business systems strategy -- multiple, overlapping knowledge

management systems were deployed for employees, creating confusion amongst the employee

In addition, the underlying technology powering the existing employee intranet had become outdated and

unsupported by the vendor. Of all of these reasons, the technical upgrade was the primary rationale that

triggered the decision for an upgrade of the intranet.

This situation was seen quite differently amongst the two teams responsible for the Intranet: Global Web

Communications (the web team in Corporate Communications) and Management Information Systems

(the technology team in Corporate IT):

 Management Information Systems (MIS) viewed this as a straight-forward system upgrade. This

meant migrating the existing content and design to the new technology platform. The design

focus was on leveraging existing success and minimizing risk and upgrade costs.

 Global Web Communications (GWC) viewed this upgrade as an opportunity to redesign the

Intranet to meet the evolving needs of the organization. This meant re-assessing the entire

structure and features of the Intranet, and essentially starting from scratch. The design focus was

on assessing what was needed and desired by the new employee make-up and the evolved

organizational needs for information.

These divergent viewpoints lead to vastly different strategies and approaches by the very teams

responsible for the intranet upgrade. This led to a divergence in strategic and budgetary planning.

MIS planned on fully leveraging the substantial investment in the new technology they purchased. This

new technology was designed to power websites like Intranet, and already had many pre-built features

“out of the box” to help simplify the implementation of websites. The strategy was to invest minimally

in configuration and instead rely on existing design, and task the Global Web Comms team to train

employees on the complex and un-customized management tools. This approach would entail the

following steps:

 Assess what new software can do

 Import existing content and design

from existing Intranet

 Add new features that software

provides to existing intranet

GWC proposed a full redesign project for

the employee Intranet. GWC made the

case that the company‟s evolution, in

conjunction with the evolving best-practices in web communications, made a compelling case to invest

up-front in completely re-thinking what the Intranet could be for the company. This approach would

entail investing in a full design process:

 Research: Interview end users and executive management; learn best practices in other

 Learn: Assess what the new software can do (i.e., what are the capabilities)

 Design: Create a linkage between was learned from the research and what the software was
capable of delivering (bringing the gap between what is available and what is needed or desired)

 Customize: Bridge the “out of the box” technology to meet the needs of the organization

GWC‟s approach to the upgrade was significantly more

expensive (approx. 50%), and not surprisingly, politically

unfavorable. “Leveraging” the software‟s design was

deemed by many as the preferred approach due to

simplicity and cost savings. Yet, with many presentations

and pitches to senior executives, GWC‟s approach

eventually won executive support because the case was

successfully made that if a system is going to be updated

only once every five years, the extra initial investment

was deemed sound based on the overall workforce efficiencies to be gained over its projected five year

Case Study: Home Computing
“What is available” vs. “What is desired” plays out in approach to product development

The situation: In 1997, personal computers had

infiltrated mainstream households:

 43 million PCs had been sold

 35% of households had a PC

 Internet had just emerged as a networking


 IBM PCs (and compatibles) dominated

 Apple market share was 3.2% and

rapidly shrinking

One of the clear dynamics of the home PC infiltration was that the design of the home PC was the same

as the existing designs of the workplace computer. The

reason? Similar to the IT approach in the prior case

study, it was less expensive to “leverage what is

available” without putting in the effort or investment in

assessing “what is needed or desired.”

As exists in many product development situations where

there are abundant capabilities that provide new potential

value, there is less of a strategic imperative to also

design an optimal solution. This is a result of the notion

that new capabilities alone can be a competitive

differentiator – so design capabilities can easily be seen

as merely “value add” that only needs to be addressed

when there is a parity of capabilities in the competitive

space. Nevertheless, a “design gap” existed – the needs In 1998, office PCs were not
redesigned for the home
and desires of the household PC owner were not fully assessed as the technology tiered down from

corporate computing to home computing. As a result, people still bought PCs for what they could do

functionally, but not how they operated or how they fit into their home lifestyle.

Apple Computer – a design-focused technology company – saw an opportunity in this design gap.

Apple‟s CEO Steve Jobs saw a gap between what was available (office PCs) and what general consumers

desired (home PC appliance) and, through his own design process, Jobs envisioned a PC designed

specifically for the home. To do this, he savvily went against conventional wisdom. He did not hire a PC

designer. Rather, he went overseas to hire a European bathroom designer – Jonathan Ives.

It‟s worth noting that Jobs implemented two important approaches to innovation and creativity: going

outside the traditional domain for design perspective (bathroom vs. technology design) and going outside

the traditional region (or field) for design expertise (Europe vs. Asia or North America). By looking

outside traditional domains and fields, Jobs created the opportunity for disparate domains and cultures to

blend in new and creative ways. While there are obviously risks involved in all creative ventures, there

are also new opportunities created by involving people who are not as invested in the status quo. Jobs

deserves credit for recognizing that innovation and creativity didn‟t end with his assessment of the design

gap between the work and home PC. He went even further by bringing in new perspectives with a

specific purpose of “mashing up” domains and fields can enable new value in the marketplace.

The new lead designer, Jonathan Ives, was primarily responsible for the aesthetic aspects of the new

Apple home PC, and focused on its form as being a function of its function. “What people recognize as

a computer today is „a beige box,‟ but this form has nothing to

do with a computer's function. Just like a toilet, it was

important that the function of [our new] PC be apparent from

its form--people had to know by looking at it that they could

type documents, send e-mail, and run applications,” Ives said. The Apple iMac
Yet, the Apple home PC story does not end with aesthetics. Steve Jobs looked at the market trends (see

chart above) and saw an opportunity to design an end-to-end user experience, not just a device. Jobs dug

into the desires beyond traditional PC usage, and thought about the activities that PC users would want to

engage in. The internet was becoming an increasing factor in the PC user experience, which meant that

PC utilization would soon be shifting from using spreadsheets and word processors (which is what the

work PC was primarily designed to do) to a device that would enable new ways for home users to create

and communicate. In essence, Apple created a new framework for home computing – their new PC, the

iMac, would be designed around using the Internet as a communications and creative device. In fact,

Apple declared the „i‟ in iMac stood for „Internet‟. Marketing attention was given to the out-of-box

experience: it would take merely 2 steps for users to connect their iMac to the internet. “There is no step

3!” was the catch phrase -- a stark comparison to the “work PC as home PC” approach of traditional PCs.

By redesigning the home PC instead of iteratively designing from what was already available, Apple‟s

iMac changed the face of home computing. Soon after the iMac launched, most other mainstream PC

manufacturers began experimenting with “home friendly” aesthetic designs, but, like before, they were

simply iteratively designing from an existing design. The true Design Gap process was not embodied by

the traditional PC industry, and Apple was able to create a substantial home PC niche. In fact, Apple‟s

stock grew 600% from the month they launched the first iMac (3/98) to the DotCom crash in 2000.

Since the launch of the iMac, Apple has created a world-renowned brand of innovation, elegance and

technology. Apple has fully embraced the idea of assessing what is wanted or desired before it designs its

new offerings. Surprisingly, and in contrast, a majority of manufacturers continue to release technology

products based primarily on what is available with little regard to how it will be used. Evidence of this is

– as stated above – the need of so much technical support. While there will always be the need for

customer service and technical support, it is arguably far too important of a crutch for the bulk of

technology products sold and marketed to consumers. Existing expectations aside, there is no reason why

technology products like the PC should require more customer support than other types of products.
Design suffers from definitional vagaries, inconsistent implementation, a lack of corporate respect, and

pigeonholing as an aesthetic or engineering requisite. Through a specific, applicable definition and a

small sample of supporting case studies, an effort has been made to consolidate, coalesce and advance the

concept of design. The rationale for this focus is grounded in the belief that design should be thought of

as a core component of problem solving in any area of an organization.

In a traditional organization, there are many common departments: human resources, finance, technology,

customer service, and marketing. It is notable that design is not one of these foundational departments.

Yes, many organizations do employ a „creative services‟ department, but these departments typically are

focused on aesthetic design of marketing and communications collateral. A true “design” department

would focus on conducting and implementing the design process on each department within the

organization, as well as provide expertise and guidance to product, service and offerings development.

This design department would provide design “best practices” through training, workshops, and


Within organizations, there are information systems that are supposedly designed to keep employees

informed, aware, and aligned with the work that the organization is set to do. Yet, the first case study

provides an example of an organization that almost went down a path where functional capabilities

trumped the organization‟s needs. If this case study is representative of the business system environment

(and this author – who has been exposed to numerous internal business systems in his 15 year career –

believes it is), there are millions of employees who struggle daily to gather the information they need in

order to do their jobs – resulting in time wasted that could be better spent solving client problems or

otherwise adding value.

Business analytics and reporting is also at risk due to the lack of focus on design. If following the same

trajectory of “leverage” vs. “design,” an MIS department will develop and define reports based on the

availability of existing information and processes. This can result in a „analytical bias‟ where
management will get information and status updates on certain areas of the business that are easier to

report on. The bias can be misleading – what if this more difficult-to-harness business metrics are the

more crucial ones for decision making? The lack of a true design process – where MIS surveys

management for the specific metrics they need to run the business before investing in any reporting tools

– could lead to a culture of decision bias based on a skewed set of reports based on reporting on what is

available instead of reporting on what is needed or desired.

Similarly, as technology continues to pervade the consumer lifestyle, navigating these consumer tools has

become quite complex; putting too much burden on the consumer. There was a time when advanced

technology was simple to use and elegantly served its purpose: television, radio, stereos, automobiles, and

even home theaters. Yet with the advent of so many capabilities at companies‟ disposal, a rush to market

has created an onslaught of poorly-designed consumer technology. For instance, most new mobile

phones can browse the internet, yet only 19% of mobile phone owners know how to perform this action

(Source: comScore Networks, 2006). While Apple has shown a unique ability to bridge the consumer

technology design gap (as shown in the above case study, as well as in their other products like the iPod

and iPhone), it remains a wonder why many more companies do not put the same focus on – or assign the

same value to – design.

Ultimately, problems can be solved in many different ways, challenges can be overcome through different

approaches, and innovations can occur in very different environments. But no matter the problem,

situation, or approach taken, if the proper focus is put on Design, people and organizations will be

positioned to solve problems better, resolve problems more effectively, and create new innovations that

solve problems more effectively.