The Business of Design: Are our expectations changing?

Businessweek’s Bruce Nussbaum, in a recent talk he gave at Innovation Night at the Royal College of Art in London. Definitely worth the read. (although I don’t buy his notion that CEOs need to be designers)

“The second great trend that will soon have an impact on design is social networking. Social media is upending relationships between customers and corporations, brand owners and brand creators, consumers and producers, centralized authority and anarchistic periphery and—pay attention here—designers and their audiences. People want to design their own experiences, or at least have a big voice in it. With Web 2.0 technology and blogs, they get that voice. People are increasingly designing their own shoes and clothes, their own screen pages, their own interfaces, their own homes. And when they’re not, they want designers and managers to really understand what they have to say. Nike is changing the way it designs and manufactures because of social networking. So are dozens of other companies. Yes, we will always have our brilliant geniuses who intuit their audiences and create wonderful experiences for them. Ive and Jobs at Apple. Bang & Olufsen and its incredible designers and designs. But even Apple is getting hit very hard on the sustainability issue because it isn’t listening to its social networks. Brands have ideologies. They stand for things. People believe in those things. When the culture of Apples’ customers changes, as it is happening today, it has to move with it. You, as designers, can’t just do ethnology anymore. You have to join with those you’re observing to be in their culture and create with them.”

Nussbaum sees the audience changing and demanding more because of the software they use and the culture of interaction they’re in. Their expectations are changing because of their experiences with social networking and the closer conversation between companies and customers. In short, Nussbaum sees the realization of the Cluetrain in social networking software.

In addition, and perhaps more interestingly, Nussbaum suggests that companies mine their own social networks for signs of where their businesses should be trending. He doesn’t give any details of how that might happen, though…

Businessweek’s Bruce Nussbaum, in a recent talk he gave at Innovation Night at the Royal College of Art in London. Definitely worth the read. (although I don’t buy his notion that CEOs need to be designers)

“The second great trend that will soon have an impact on design is social networking. Social media is upending relationships between customers and corporations, brand owners and brand creators, consumers and producers, centralized authority and anarchistic periphery and—pay attention here—designers and their audiences. People want to design their own experiences, or at least have a big voice in it. With Web 2.0 technology and blogs, they get that voice. People are increasingly designing their own shoes and clothes, their own screen pages, their own interfaces, their own homes. And when they’re not, they want designers and managers to really understand what they have to say. Nike is changing the way it designs and manufactures because of social networking. So are dozens of other companies. Yes, we will always have our brilliant geniuses who intuit their audiences and create wonderful experiences for them. Ive and Jobs at Apple. Bang & Olufsen and its incredible designers and designs. But even Apple is getting hit very hard on the sustainability issue because it isn’t listening to its social networks. Brands have ideologies. They stand for things. People believe in those things. When the culture of Apples’ customers changes, as it is happening today, it has to move with it. You, as designers, can’t just do ethnology anymore. You have to join with those you’re observing to be in their culture and create with them.”

Nussbaum sees the audience changing and demanding more because of the software they use and the culture of interaction they’re in. Their expectations are changing because of their experiences with social networking and the closer conversation between companies and customers. In short, Nussbaum sees the realization of the Cluetrain in social networking software.

In addition, and perhaps more interestingly, Nussbaum suggests that companies mine their own social networks for signs of where their businesses should be trending. He doesn’t give any details of how that might happen, though…

I think Nussbaum is right, and he makes a point I’ve heard before, but from a different angle. He points out that designers need to get close to their audience.

But there is one audience that is as close as you can get: developers who design for themselves. It is clear that those designers who design for themselves are more successful than those that don’t. From a user research standpoint this makes perfect sense…those designers don’t have to learn as much about their audience. They don’t have to do interviews, outside user testing, or deep ethnographic research. They’re living the activities they’re building for, so they just build what they need. They are their audience.

I think both viewpoints are right, and complementary. Both the tool makers and the tool users are getting closer to the activity of design. On the one hand, we have more tools than ever to design for ourselves. On the other hand, the social software we’re using everyday suggests we’re increasingly part of the conversation.

But there is also the fact that Design as a topic of discussion is trending upward. It’s on the news. It’s in print. It’s in BusinessWeek, as this piece was. The overall effect is that there are more and more stories of how design is a differentiator…and that in itself also changes expectations. Is it a good thing or a bad thing? I’m not sure, but I do know that talking about design and business in the same breath is more necessary than ever.

Published: September 10th, 2007

The What to Wear Daily Report. A simple daily email with clothing recommendations and other info based on the weather. Remarkably useful. It's free to sign up.