The Power of a Recommendation Gets Things Your Way

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Design Leadership
Designing Designers

Written by Brian Ling (Design Sojourn)
Feb 18, 2008


We designers have got it tough.

We seem to get blamed for almost everything these days. From seemingly lack of sustainable efforts to poor packaging or just lousy product experiences, we seem to cop it all. However the reality is we cannot and should not feel as we are entirely to blame.

As Bill Buxton lamented in his recent keynote speech “The Design Ecosystem” during the Interaction 08 Interaction Design conference:

He (Buxton) started off by emphasizing that designers alone cannot take credit for any great business solution; everyone in an organization has equal value – and he noted the tripod of design, engineering and sales. He spoke about Apple’s success and the industry’s tendency to credit its principal designer Jonathan Ive. While Apple certainly turned itself around through industrial design, admits Buxton who is a principal scientist at Microsoft Research, credit is as much due to the Apple lawyers who managed to convince the major record labels to let them sell their songs for 99 cents each, and to the advertising team who came up with the unmistakable silhouette commercials. Via: Pleasure and Pain

The flip side of this can be also true. If something goes wrong, it is therefore not always the designer’s fault, though he is always the first scapegoat. So we should not be too hard on ourselves nor take ourselves too seriously all the time.

Often there are forces that move around us that are way beyond our control. Thus when a project is running away from the design intent or component creep is causing a design to spiral into the depths of fatness, I have found the best thing to do at anyone one time is to use the power of a recommendation. While we can’t be blamed entirely, we still have a duty as designers to say something especially if it impacts the environment.

A recommendation is a powerful form of a suggestion. The great thing is that it steps on no one’s toes, as is not a commandment or a must do. Also it highlights the fact that you are making a point, while not bruising other egos as it still defers the ultimate responsibility to the decision maker. Also when you make a recommendation, it is also processed in the other person’s memory as an option and thus a powerful influencer on making a decision that you might want.

So the next time, when you need a client to accept a proposal, or a design direction, try making a recommendation instead!

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Jim Rait
Feb 19, 08 – 7:22 pm

When I started training to be an (engineering) designer I was told that designing was like being at the hub of a bike wheel … you had to keep (turning) iterating whilst being subject to inputs from people in all the other departmental spokes who would occasionally transmit big shocks from potholes (e.g. test results bad!).. but don’t expect to be singled out for praise its the bike team leader who gets that.. and brickbats. you just have to stay well lubricated by your craftsmanship (skills) and follow the frame (competences).

Feb 21, 08 – 11:48 am

Hi Jim,

Thanks for your all you comments on this posts and other ones. Please keep in touch.

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