Tool decisions are a big part of
the development process. In making these decisions, engineers
determine much of what will or
will not be possible when building a
product (e.g., Windows Presentation
enable different outcomes, which
may not map to what the designer
wants or believes is necessary
to serve the interests of project
stakeholders [ 1]. So designers need
to be involved in these decisions.
Designers can’t just throw it over
the wall, or they risk being margin-alized and ignored.
To make an informed contribution, here and at other stages,
designers should be familiar with
the technology engineers are
using. Designers should not just
read about the technology, but
play with it to find out what value
it can provide beyond what users
already know they want. Being able
to manipulate technology toward
anticipating and exceeding user
expectations is a powerful thing.
At every stage, designers should
be flexible and open-minded. Trade-offs and compromises are inevitable
and can help ensure success, not
undercut it, so long as they are
grounded in sound humanistic principles, not user dictates.
© 2012 Eames Office, LLC ( eamesoffice.com)
Getting down to business. What
about business factors? Companies
need to make money, and to keep
funders happy, nonprofits need to
show mission success. Working in
either sector, designers need to create products that enable clients to
meet their goals.
In the enterprise software sector
where I work, it’s vital to understand the “sales channel”—that is,
the ongoing series of interactions
between salespeople and customers.
These interactions not only drive
deals but also feed release sched-
ules to the customer, with feature
and bug-fix requests going back to
the development team. The sales
channel can be an extremely useful
source of information for designers,
though of course they should keep
in mind that customers—product
buyers—are not always the same as
Also key is to understand customers’ business models: what they offer
their customers, why this offering has value, how they make the
sale, and how they ensure the sales
stream will hold up over time. Useful
here is the recent book Business Model
Generation by Alexander Osterwalder,
which explains traditional business thinking through a design lens.
Understanding your customers’ business, you can then explain the business value of a particular design, or
make a convincing case for using a
particular business model to sell a
proposed new product (e.g., “
free-mium” or “subscription-based”). And
of course you’ll be able to shape
your designs to meet not just users’
needs, but customers’ business
needs as well.
Revisiting the center of design. So
what’s the center of a design? In one
sense, it is the designer’s nuanced
understanding of the problem or
opportunity at hand—as designers
love to say, the focus of design is
problem solving, not self-expression.
Again, this understanding must be
based on balancing human, finan-
cial, and technical challenges. As
design scholar Richard Buchanan
has said, “Design lies at the inter-
section of constraint, contingency,
and possibility” [ 2].
1. Gajendar, U. and Johnson, C. The inmates are still
running the asylum: How to share a design vision
with engineers. Proc. of HCI International. Springer,
2. Liedtka, J. and Ogilvie, T. Designing for Growth:
A Design Thinking Toolkit for Managers. Columbia
Business School Publishing, New York, 2011.
May + June 2012
© 2012 ACM 1072-5220/12/05 $10.00