Excuse me, your company culture is showing

Authors: Monica Granfield
Posted: Fri, July 11, 2014 - 10:36:16

Find the simple story in the product, and present it in an articulate and intelligent, persuasive way. —Bill Bernbach

As I read this quote by the all time advertising great, Bill Bernbach, it occurred to me that simplifying and distilling a product story to persuasively and innovatively represent it in a product depends on a company’s brand and culture, and how the brand embodies the culture. 

This is not new news, but it is news worth revisiting—your company culture and politics surface in the design of your product. 

As a designer, my inclination or habit is to try and understand how a design solution was reached—how and why something was created and designed as it was. In doing this, quite often it becomes apparent how and why certain design trade-offs and decisions were made. One can almost hear the conversations that occurred around the decisions. 

A confusing design that provides little guidance and direction or one that does not provide enough flexibility, generating end user frustration, could be traced back to a culture where the end user’s voice is not heard or represented. 

Business trade-offs, technical decisions, design trade-offs, research or lack of it, political posturing—it's all there, reflected in your product. Every meeting, every disagreement, every management decision—all are represented in the end result, the design of your product and the experience your users have with that product. 

Does your company innovate or follow? Is the design of your product driven by clear and thoughtful goals and intentions? Most of these aspects of a design can be traced directly to company culture. Just like the underlying technical architecture surfaces in the product design, so too does the corporate culture, politics, and decision making. 

Is the company engineering focused? Sales focused? Does your culture represent your brand? Where do the product goals align with these intentions? Design goals need to align with the business goals, which are a direct reflection of the product’s design. The clearer your company goals and mission, the clearer your design intentions will be. This will drive directed design thinking, resulting in useful, elegant, well-designed, desirable products. 

I recently read an article that asked what it's really like inside of Apple. The answer: Everyone there embraces design thinking to support the business goals. That is the culture. Everyone's ideas matter, and are subject to the same rigor as a designer’s solution. Great idea? Let's vet that as we would any design idea or solution. This is what makes a great product. So when someone tells you they want to make products as cool as Apple’s, that they want to innovate, ask them about their culture. 

When rationalizing the design thinking and design direction of your products, consider representing a culture that you are proud of and how that culture and the decisions you make will be represented in your product.

Posted in: on Fri, July 11, 2014 - 10:36:16

Monica Granfield

Monica Granfield is a user experience strategist at Go Design LLC.
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