Design is Different (was: eBay redesign)

26 Jun 2007 - 7:32am
7 years ago
4 replies
678 reads
Christopher Fahey
2005

I wrote:
>> The answer has to do with level of detail. A "business
>> goal" is sometimes very general, e.g. to "increase
>> revenue, or it can be more specific but not quite
>> design-granular, e.g. "make it easier for users to set
>> up seller accounts". A "design goal" might be inspired
>> by or based on a business goal, but is a little more
>> granular. It's a child of a business goal. For example,
>> "making the BUY button easier to find" is a design goal
>> for the "increase revenue" business goal. Or "simplify
>> the merchant sign-up process into a single page" might
>> be a design goal to help "make it easier for users to
>> set up seller accounts".

Jared wrote:
> Really??
> With all due respect, your statements are only true if you
> have evidence to tell you that making the BUY button easier
> to find will actually increase revenues, or that simplifying
> the process into one page will make it easier to set up.

Really? All design decisions require "evidence"? That's new to me.
Almost (but not quite) none of my design decisions involve the use of
evidence, and I would imagine that 99.9% of all design decisions made by
all designers use even less evidence than I do. Most design decisions
use assumptions, experience, insight, vague memories of prior successes
and failures, sometimes a little research, and sometimes the harder
decisions will need to incorporate some overt evidence.

The essence of a *design strategy* is the decision, whether based on
evidence or gut instinct or some combination thereof, that making
changes or investments specifically in design will improve a product.
Some companies make very different choices with regard to their design
strategies.

Example: My examples of the BUY button and the one-page signup
implicitly presume that some person used evidence or instinct to decide
to make a specific design change. I used these as examplea of how things
actually happen: some smart person, whether it's a design-conscious CEO
at the top or a usability-testing information architect near the bottom,
decided that the BUY button was too small and that it needed to be
bigger. In many companies, such decisions are rare -- in others, they
happen a hundred times a day. These solutions are design solutions, and
they are worth talking about as fundamentally and strategically
different from other types of business decisions.

On the flip side, many business decision makers do NOT involve design in
the solutions to their problems. A business can decide to hire 1
designer instead of 10, or they can decide to not invest in a site
redesign for 5 years straight, or the CEO can choose to ignore repeated
requests by the design team to conduct usability testing on the checkout
pages. In these cases, a senior business decision maker has decided that
design is not strategically important, that they want to spend their
money elsewhere, on something other than design.

> Simplifying product offerings isn't a design activity?
> Enhancing functionality to use third-party partners to
> simplify the process isn't a design activity?
> You have a much narrower perspective of what design is
> than I do. In my mind, if it affects the experience of
> the user, it's design.

Jared, you are using what I think to be a rather lofty holistic
definition of the word "design" that I have a lot of respect for in the
abstract sense, but which has little practical use for me in the real
world. When I say "design" I almost always mean the thing that people
with the word "design" on their business cards do, the dollars in the
budget with the word "design" next to them. By your reasoning, almost
anything at all can be called design, rendering the word completely
useless.

Think of it this way: Everything you've describes as falling under the
category of "design" could just as easily, and in some ways more easily,
fall under the category of "branding". Or "marketing". But we wouldn't
think to use those terms so freely because we need those words to
describe specific aspects of how a business operates -- so how is design
any different? Why should we dilute the meaning of the word design?

> A business leader does not tell their team to "increase
> revenue" without more specific direction either.

Yes, but the direction they give may or may not involve paying attention
to design. For example, there is a huge difference between the design
decision process at Apple versus the same process at eBay, and these
differences are the result of different degrees of concern for design as
part of an overall business strategy.

There is a huge difference between the way Chinese companies treat
design and branding and the way American companies treat design and
branding. Particularly in Western business, design is a full-blown
commodity. It is something that companies can choose to invest in and
then sell to consumers. I just heard a story on the radio about how
Chinese manufacturers are starting to learn how to improve their ability
to sell design (as in *industrial design*) and branding because both are
major profit drivers that China has not fully exploited yet because the
skills in those areas aren't where they are in the west. In this
context, just to give an example, it is critical that we stick to a
narrow definition of what design is, otherwise we might as well say that
these Chinese companies already have strong design teams simply because
they are profitable, which is silly.

> Certainly you don't think design leaders have
> different leadership skills than other types
> of leaders?

Good God yes they do! Design leaders have very different leadership
skills from other types of leaders. For one thing, can understand many
of the details of the field(s) of design, the skills and techniques.
They can distinguish good design from bad design, and can describe the
reasons why to other designers and to laymen. They can tell a good
designer from a bad designer, and how to mentor other designers. They
know how to communicate to designers, and how to enable designers to
communicate with each other. To write all this stuff off as plain old
"leadership" is to neglect or even to demean the specific things that
designers are all about.

> Every time we try to draw the line between "business"
> and "design" we get ourselves into trouble.

I know you mean well (yes, designers should be involved in business
decisions like pricing and product structuring!), but I think you may be
asking us to go too far. If we blur the line too much in our
well-justified enthusiasm to educate and elevate the status of
designers, to correct design's long-standing misunderstandings of
business, we risk diluting the meaning of design itself, undermining the
enormous body of specific knowledge and skills that design has accrued,
and ultimately enabling people without design skills to be responsible
for design decisions -- the opposite of your presumed intention of
integrating design into business decisions.

In this "design is everything" world, an ambitious b-school student can
now go to a "d-school" to learn how to wear a turtleneck shirt, and
eventually find themselves leading and directing a team of designers
without ever having designed anything him or herself. This is, I think,
part of what Dan Saffer is lamenting (http://tinyurl.com/3xew3g) when he
sees people calling themselves designers but who have no actual
boots-on-the-ground design skills.

Design is different. Design is special. Let's treat it that way.

Cheers,
-Cf

Christopher Fahey
____________________________
Behavior
http://www.behaviordesign.com
me: http://www.graphpaper.com

Comments

26 Jun 2007 - 9:51pm
Jared M. Spool
2003

On Jun 26, 2007, at 8:32 AM, Christopher Fahey wrote:

> I wrote:
>>> The answer has to do with level of detail. A "business
>>> goal" is sometimes very general, e.g. to "increase
>>> revenue, or it can be more specific but not quite
>>> design-granular, e.g. "make it easier for users to set
>>> up seller accounts". A "design goal" might be inspired
>>> by or based on a business goal, but is a little more
>>> granular. It's a child of a business goal. For example,
>>> "making the BUY button easier to find" is a design goal
>>> for the "increase revenue" business goal. Or "simplify
>>> the merchant sign-up process into a single page" might
>>> be a design goal to help "make it easier for users to
>>> set up seller accounts".
>
> Jared wrote:
>> Really??
>> With all due respect, your statements are only true if you
>> have evidence to tell you that making the BUY button easier
>> to find will actually increase revenues, or that simplifying
>> the process into one page will make it easier to set up.
>
> Really? All design decisions require "evidence"?

No.

But that's not what we're talking about here. You stated that you
were creating design goals which were at a lower level of granularity
than the original business goal.

I was stating that the transition to the lower level of granularity
only works if you know the lower level is in fact going to achieve
the higher goal.

I was talking about the relationships behind the goals you stated,
not the decisions involved.

>
>> Simplifying product offerings isn't a design activity?
>> Enhancing functionality to use third-party partners to
>> simplify the process isn't a design activity?
>> You have a much narrower perspective of what design is
>> than I do. In my mind, if it affects the experience of
>> the user, it's design.
>
> Jared, you are using what I think to be a rather lofty holistic
> definition of the word "design" that I have a lot of respect for in
> the
> abstract sense, but which has little practical use for me in the real
> world. When I say "design" I almost always mean the thing that people
> with the word "design" on their business cards do, the dollars in the
> budget with the word "design" next to them. By your reasoning, almost
> anything at all can be called design, rendering the word completely
> useless.

Maybe. In the same way "leadership" is rendered useless when we think
of anyone being a leader.

If we assume the only people who design are people with "design" on
their biz card, that doesn't really account for many of the other
elements of experience design happening today.

As we do our research on the success of organizations trying to
create excellent user/customer experiences, we see the most
successful organizations realize design happens everywhere in the
organization, from the look of the product to the text in the terms
and conditions.

Compare the fare terms for a US Air flight to the fare terms for a
Southwest flight. The US Air terms are impossible for mortals to read
-- it's clear they are only to cover US Air's butt and not for the
ticket purchaser to understand at the purchase time (despite their
insistence you agree to them before purchasing).

Southwest, on the other hand, is written in short, simple, easy-to-
understand language. They want the purchaser to understand the terms
and ensure they are getting exactly what they desire.

I'm willing to bet neither terms documents were created by anyone
with "design" on their business card. (I'd be willing to bet the
cards had "counsel" instead.) However, both were designed. And the
results of the design decisions have a observable impact on the
experience of the respective ticket purchases.

Our research shows successful experience design organizations look at
the entire experience and all of the prospective design agents. (In
our lingo, a "design agent" is anyone who can affect the experience.
"Primary design agents" are the people you're referring to. "Indirect
design agents" are the people, like the lawyers at the airlines, who
affect the design through policies and other decisions.)

> Think of it this way: Everything you've describes as falling under the
> category of "design" could just as easily, and in some ways more
> easily,
> fall under the category of "branding". Or "marketing". But we wouldn't
> think to use those terms so freely because we need those words to
> describe specific aspects of how a business operates -- so how is
> design
> any different? Why should we dilute the meaning of the word design?

Actually, from our research, we find the more successful
organizations *do* use the terms freely and pays off for them. Who
are we helping by restricting our notions of these concepts?

>> A business leader does not tell their team to "increase
>> revenue" without more specific direction either.
>
> Yes, but the direction they give may or may not involve paying
> attention
> to design. For example, there is a huge difference between the design
> decision process at Apple versus the same process at eBay, and these
> differences are the result of different degrees of concern for
> design as
> part of an overall business strategy.

Not from my experience in working with both companies.

On the contrary, I find they both have a huge degree of concern for
design.

However, their markets are extremely different. What an Apple
customer needs is very different from what an eBay customer needs. It
would be a huge mistake to equate the two purely on an aesthetic
scale, which is what I think you're doing.

>
>
>> Certainly you don't think design leaders have
>> different leadership skills than other types
>> of leaders?
>
> Good God yes they do! Design leaders have very different leadership
> skills from other types of leaders. For one thing, can understand many
> of the details of the field(s) of design, the skills and techniques.

Are those *leadership skills*? Now which of us is broadening the terms?

> They can distinguish good design from bad design, and can describe the
> reasons why to other designers and to laymen.

I think these are design skills, which all excellent designers
possess, whether they are leaders or not.

> They can tell a good
> designer from a bad designer, and how to mentor other designers. They
> know how to communicate to designers, and how to enable designers to
> communicate with each other. To write all this stuff off as plain old
> "leadership" is to neglect or even to demean the specific things that
> designers are all about.

Take out the word designer in the above quote and put in the word
"employee" and you've got generic leadership skills. I don't see this
as specific to design leaders. A sports coach has the same skills for
the athletes they are leading. I'm sorry, but I don't see anything
special here.

>> Every time we try to draw the line between "business"
>> and "design" we get ourselves into trouble.
>
> I know you mean well (yes, designers should be involved in business
> decisions like pricing and product structuring!), but I think you
> may be
> asking us to go too far. If we blur the line too much in our
> well-justified enthusiasm to educate and elevate the status of
> designers, to correct design's long-standing misunderstandings of
> business, we risk diluting the meaning of design itself,
> undermining the
> enormous body of specific knowledge and skills that design has
> accrued,
> and ultimately enabling people without design skills to be responsible
> for design decisions -- the opposite of your presumed intention of
> integrating design into business decisions.

Could be.

But I'm not asking anything that we haven't seen when we compare the
companies who are successfully creating excellent experiences from
those who are unsuccessfully trying. As our research continues, we're
hoping to uncover more of the attributes that separate excellence
from the rest, which we can then pass on.

If you think I'm asking too much, I can certainly understand that. I
never said it would be easy. But, few good things are.

> In this "design is everything" world, an ambitious b-school student
> can
> now go to a "d-school" to learn how to wear a turtleneck shirt, and
> eventually find themselves leading and directing a team of designers
> without ever having designed anything him or herself.

Those are your words, not mine.

Oh, and what design training did Steve Jobs have before Apple? I
forget. Or Howard Schultz (founder of Starbucks)? Or Sam Walton? Or
Ray Kroc? Or Walt Disney? Or David Neeleman (founder of JetBlue)? Or
Reed Hastings (founder of Netflix)?

I've looked online, but I can't seem to find if any of them had
extensive design experience before creating their successful
experiences. I must've missed something. :) (Walt was a cartoonist.
Is that enough to learn how to create the most successful
entertainment experience company on the planet?)

> This is, I think,
> part of what Dan Saffer is lamenting (http://tinyurl.com/3xew3g)
> when he
> sees people calling themselves designers but who have no actual
> boots-on-the-ground design skills.

Maybe Dan should start looking at the resumes of the drop outs
instead of the graduates. Then maybe he'd find a Steve Jobs.

(I'm sympathetic to this, since I don't have even a high school
diploma myself.)

> Design is different. Design is special. Let's treat it that way.

Agreed. Let's treat it in the way that works best for us and our
customers. And, to me, that means acknowledging that it happens
across the organization in a variety of forms.

> Cheers,
> -Cf

With love and respect,

Jared

Jared M. Spool
User Interface Engineering
510 Turnpike St., Suite 102, North Andover, MA 01845
e: jspool at uie.com p: +1 978 327 5561
http://uie.com Blog: http://uie.com/brainsparks

27 Jun 2007 - 8:39am
tdellaringa
2006

I just wanted to make a small comment in regard to this discussion of
Christopher and Jared's.

There seems to be a fear (for lack of a better word) rooted in Chris's
comments that by allowing more people into the realm of design that might be
"unschooled" that it will then devalue design as a whole, specifically one's
own talents. That fear makes your expertise of less value, and ultimately
you of less value. And there's the notion that if design gets devalued in
this way, then everyone loses.

I think what Jared is trying to say (and I may well be wrong) and what I
feel, is that the exact opposite happens, especially at companies like
Southwest that really get how to create compelling user experiences. When it
is recognized that customer experience design can happen in the writing of a
terms & conditions statement, and in the way someone is greeted at a counter
as well as how a form is designed and organized, how navigation works and
what colors are used, then design becomes of *more* value. People outside
our little design comfort zones start to "get it."

Because that is design that truly affects experiences that customers have,
because the whole organization - not just those with "design" on the
business cards - is executing good design. And the truth of the matter is,
we can't do it all. I can't be the one to write the terms and greet the
customers and fly the plane. I'm mapping mental models for heaven's sake!

When a whole organization moves like that, they win. Apple moves like that,
Southwest moves like that ("you are now free to move about the country" ...
I love that!) and I think eBay has a pretty good sense of that too -
regardless of what it looks like to us, who are admittedly on the *outside*
- not inside.

Cheers

Tom

27 Jun 2007 - 11:46pm
Jared M. Spool
2003

Nicely said.

If anyone wants to hear more about eBay's design approach, I'd listen
to this recording we put together of Christian Rohrer, eBay's
Director of User Research, at our January Web App Summit: http://
tinyurl.com/ywrte3

Jared

On Jun 27, 2007, at 9:39 AM, Tom Dell'Aringa wrote:

> I just wanted to make a small comment in regard to this discussion
> of Christopher and Jared's.
>
> There seems to be a fear (for lack of a better word) rooted in
> Chris's comments that by allowing more people into the realm of
> design that might be "unschooled" that it will then devalue design
> as a whole, specifically one's own talents. That fear makes your
> expertise of less value, and ultimately you of less value. And
> there's the notion that if design gets devalued in this way, then
> everyone loses.
>
> I think what Jared is trying to say (and I may well be wrong) and
> what I feel, is that the exact opposite happens, especially at
> companies like Southwest that really get how to create compelling
> user experiences. When it is recognized that customer experience
> design can happen in the writing of a terms & conditions statement,
> and in the way someone is greeted at a counter as well as how a
> form is designed and organized, how navigation works and what
> colors are used, then design becomes of *more* value. People
> outside our little design comfort zones start to "get it."
>
> Because that is design that truly affects experiences that
> customers have, because the whole organization - not just those
> with "design" on the business cards - is executing good design. And
> the truth of the matter is, we can't do it all. I can't be the one
> to write the terms and greet the customers and fly the plane. I'm
> mapping mental models for heaven's sake!
>
> When a whole organization moves like that, they win. Apple moves
> like that, Southwest moves like that ("you are now free to move
> about the country" ... I love that!) and I think eBay has a pretty
> good sense of that too - regardless of what it looks like to us,
> who are admittedly on the *outside* - not inside.

29 Jun 2007 - 11:22am
Helge Tennø
2007

To me this seems to be a discussion that in the end boils down to a
disagreement on the meaning of definitions. (As Tom Dell%u2019Aringa
points out). - But regarding the use of the term %u201Cdesign%u201D
and %u201Cdesigner%u201D as a whole, and not (As Tom Dell%u2019Aringa
points out) relating it to pride or fear of lack of quality regarding
resources or product.

And in that scenario I really would have to side with Fahey. I can
easily see that the watering out of the term %u201Cdesign%u201D and
%u201Cdesigner%u201D these days renders the term useless for
it%u2019s original context - Which was related to the visual shaping
of a subject according to plan.

As Erik Speikerman is quoted saying in the book %u201CThought
leadership by Design%u201D where he comments the classic problem: is
design art?

%u201DContrary to popular beliefs, designers are not artists. They
employ artistic methods to visualize thinking and process, but,
unlike artists, they work to solve a client%u2019s problems, not
present their own view of the world%u201D- Erik Speikermann

Now which part of mental modeling employs artistic methods? Can the
use of fonts, colors or boxes in an Excel spreadsheet be defined as
an artistic tool?

Unfortunately, even though I still side with Fahey, Spool is correct
in this case. Merriam Webster defines design as: %u201CTo create,
fashion, execute, or construct according to plan%u201D. Which would
imply that as long as you create anything according to plan you would
be the designer of it. And thus everybody are designers, most of us
even design multiple times a day.

I think designers (unfortunately) has to see their former
classification rendered useless by related industries watering out
the term by adapting it to their own products and processes. Their
laziness regarding term definition requires designers to come up with
a more specialized description of what they are doing if they want to
keep their vernacular. Which is needed in order to discuss or
describe the work they produce.

We recently experienced this problem in an interest group for web
designers (in the old meaning of the word) where we were trying to
define who the group was for, and ended up not being able to use the
word %u201Cdesigner%u201D at all %u2013 but rather define the target
group by their physical output rather than the %u201Clogical%u201D
and historical title.

Cultures and languages change, fortunately.

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