24/04/2017

Designing for fluid efficiency

By Nick Dormon

By understanding the different languages of complex project stakeholders, designers are the catalysts that make project teams fly. 

You would think that if anyone could pull off a big audacious project it would be a big multinational corporation. Who else have the systems, process, skills and resources to do it?

New innovation, brands or packaging are essential to keep companies competitive and profitable yet the reality is that, without a powerful charismatic leader like the Elon Musks of this world driving them forward, big, important projects start off fine, but often loose their way.

Their very reason for success is often their limitation – a complex mix of project stakeholders - passionate, smart and determined to succeed, but living in different worlds, with different remits and working contexts. A production engineer focussed on efficiencies might find it difficult to relate to an insight manager worrying about user needs; a commercial manager counting the costs may not relate to a brand manager’s desire to build brand personality. But it is important that they do. Negotiations are required. On a one-to-one basis, they are relatively straightforward, but they are more likely to be multifaceted and complex with far reaching implications.  

Multidisciplinary teams get together at the beginning of projects to share advice and aspirations, but, faced with the daunting task ahead, pragmatism quickly takes hold and tasks are broken down into the simplest manageable activities, prioritised and ordered into a series of events as part of an, often ambitious, time-plan. But in this linear approach opportunities will be missed and problems start – everyone has spoken, many have listened, but few have really understood all the perspectives and their collective implications. However when multiple strings of thought come together real opportunities are born – combining benefits to powerfully justify investment.

What is missing is a common language, medium or focal point to bring everyone together. This is where designers come to the fore - adding real value in the strategic phases by fostering understanding and coalescing thinking and stratagems. They understand the language of technology, consumers, brand and commerce so can be an arbitrator, go-between or catalyst as the need requires. Designers focus decision-making around the end user, using scenarios and personas to keep the team focused. They bring brand personalities to life, ensuring the emotive aspects are understood, appreciated and balanced with the hard, functional facts. They bring clarity to complex systems through visual networks, storyboards and journey maps so each stakeholder can see where they add value and how they interact with others.

A further issue with this tendency to default to a series approach is that, to accommodate new understanding as work passes down the line, loops of work propagate which, in turn, cause delays as decision makers are sought. Inevitably programme creep starts to build, increasing the risk that the project remit is superseded by new priorities, budgets are channelled elsewhere and the project is shelved.

Again designers can help by encouraging faster parallel development. By embodying different criteria in ‘Concept Cars’ we can see the combined effects of brand personalities, technical proposals and cost parameters and drive project criteria along in partnership.  Used back in the 50s to showcase Detroit’s lastest innovations to the general public, the Concept Car principle is just as relevant today, but rather than embodying new ideas for the public, they can be utilised to foster understanding, evaluation and decision-making in project teams. They can be completed rapidly and economically and, once opinions are formed, new proposals can be quickly modelled in confirmation. Corporations are constantly trying to act like entrepreneurs to stay ahead in business. Design can help replicate the entrepreneur’s fast, iterative thinking, but within seemingly unwieldy  but powerful multidisciplined teams.

Echo have created new products and services with our clients - cutting design lock down from years to months. We have rapidly built comprehensive innovation pipelines, sustainability programmes and generated exciting new business ventures. We couldn’t have done it without our clients’ rich diversity of talent and they couldn't have done it without our designer’s skill set.

 

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