You are a designer.
I can hear some protests now. You might argue that you’re not a designer. You’re a baker or a marketer or the owner of a small retail shop.
After all, design is something professional designers do. Engineers. Inventors. Architects.
Nevertheless, you are a designer.
It’s possible to argue that you’re not a very effective designer. If that’s the case, you wouldn’t be alone. You need look no farther than traffic gridlock and wardrobe malfunctions for proof.
However, if you develop a broader understanding of design, you’d not only see your own role as designer, but also how to improve the design work that you do every day.
Let’s start by adopting a modern definition of design
In The Sciences of the Artificial, Nobel laureate Herbert Simon called it “the transformation of existing conditions into preferred ones.”
Though this is a beautiful definition, it can be made even simpler: design is recognizing problems and solving them through creative thinking.
When you recognize that design is more than a profession, it should be easier to call yourself a designer. And once you recognize your design skills, you can affect more positive change for your customers and your business through focused design thinking.
Step 1: Know and empathize with your customers
If you can’t define your target market (or markets), you can’t empathize with them. And without empathy, you can’t identify their needs. If you don’t understand what your customers need, you can provide it. You see where this is going.
Imagine that you own a retail clothing shop that is experiencing little or no traffic. Your target market is thirty-something-year-old professional women. These extremely busy women may be working during your shop’s daytime hours. At the end of the day, they’re too tired to shop, and on weekends, they may be consumed with family activities. Of course they’d love to have new clothes, but with all of their responsibilities, shopping has become more of a chore than a fun pastime.
Step 2: Define the problem
If you skip step one, you may believe that the problem is that you don’t make enough sales or that you don’t get enough customers through your doors. However, by taking time to empathize with your market, you’ve learned what’s at the heart of the problem:
It isn’t about your or your store at all. The problem is that your target market can’t find time to visit your store. You might phrase that as a question to encourage possible solutions: How can busy women shop without feeling it’s an additional task to complete?
Step 3: Brainstorm LOTS of solutions
Lots. Of. Solutions. It’s important not to limit yourself or to shrug off some ideas as ridiculous. After all, the most ridiculous ideas sometimes lead to the most effective solutions. Pull in representatives of your market to help you ideate. Bring in other professionals – marketers, artists, party planners, stylists. A critical component of design is collaboration, so don’t be shy about asking for help as you brainstorm.
You might come up with dozens of ideas for this particular problem, such as:
- Offer to bring selections of clothes to women at their places of business during lunch hours for mini-fashion shows.
- Consider using a concierge approach to tailor outfits for women and deliver them.
- What about an after-hours champagne party with a local DJ?
Step 4: Give it a whirl
Once you’ve got plenty of ideas to work with, try out a few of the best. Experiment. See what works and what doesn’t. Get feedback and use it to refine your ideas.
The beautiful thing about recognizing that design is a process that anyone can use is that you can begin to apply it to improve all sorts of conditions. Not just your business, but your entire life. The process works just as well to find solutions to your kids not picking up their socks as it does to find solutions for reducing waste during manufacturing or improving the CTR of a website.