European House of Design Management

I attended a one day workshop to expplore what a Design Management toolkit might look like and how it might help public sector orgs in Europe. It was organised by the DBA in partnership with Danish Designers, on behalf of the EU. Thought I’d capture my thoughts.

The exercise felt a bit constrained by the way the initiative was procured. The team had obviously had to rapidly find a hypothesis with reference points, which we as a group then rapidly dismantled. The models felt a bit old, dusty and out of step. But that’s by-the-by. It triggered the right level of debate, and the message was given and taken in good grace and I think there’s plans to take a design approach to the next stages.

What was interesting was the intersection of practice in the room. Design was there in many different forms: design managers, design leaders, design academics, service designers, public sector design enthusiasts – all sorts. I was struck by the route Design Management had taken from product, industrual and architecural routes, which made me feel a bit out of place, given I’ve come up through the digital UX route. This was a bit evident in discussions with me banging on a bit about how new methods like Lean Startup and Agile UX were conspicuous in their absence. Also the CX work coming from Bruce Temkin and CXPA. If we want a toolkit in 3 years that feels fresh, then it needs to be taking into account latest practice now!

Having slept on it, I guess my big hopes are:

  1. An accredited design toolkit – so clients know what they are buying, get a degree of predictability in method and thus reduces overall risk of the purchase of design. Makes it easier for us to sell it. Something like what architects have evolved.
  2. A route map that takes the reader from the steps: “what could we do”, “what should we do”, to “what can we do”, “what will we do”, with a parallel stream of “how should we do it”. Adopting strategic design into an organisation needs to be pitched as a bit of an adventure as it changes the way the organisation works – as evidenced by the Roca case study we were presented with by Raymond Turner, which echoed my own experience with my own clients.
  3. A set of tools aimed at leaders (how do I envision and engage), managers (how do I change direction and drive through) and frontline staff (how do I become a designer and keep designing) – to help each group to handle the change on their own terms. Each will face very different challenges through stages of transition
  4. A community for leaders (definitely) and managers (maybe at a later stage) to help them build understanding and confidence – hear from others, learn from their mistakes, seek advice from peers.
  5. Language, tone of voice, pitch – Confidence is the major stumbling block here. Risk is the watchword in all this – the public sector hates it, but embracing it will help it survive. The relentless pitch to these guys needs to be “innovate to save. execute to survive” – design needs to be positioned as a low cost route to considerable savings, whilst also delivering better outcomes for staff and customers. We need to be clear that this is at the heart of the Design Management offer. We also need to make sure this doesn’t devolve into a dry EU toolkit. It needs to retain all the appealing and human ‘colour’ of design – the creativitiy and inspiration – the focus on storytelling, imaginatoin and drawing that we know often mark the turning points of projects. These things need to be embedded into the output and the way it is distributed.

Finally a note of concern about the 3 year timescale. Please please please can we not wait until then to deliver a perfectly form but hopelessly out of date toolkit? Can we instead borrow from the latest in design (Lean Startup and Agile) to reach a Minimum Viable Product in the next few months. Get that basic toolkit out there in the public domain, being used by a beta group and – crucially – failing to work, so we can quickly improve it again and again. The energy in the room yesterday will lend itself well to that way of working. 

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