How To Talk To People About What We Do


Attending The IIT Institute of Design Strategy Conference here in Chicago was a two day immersion in design thinking with thought leaders from academia and practitioners from industry coming together.  Each year ID hosts this international executive forum addressing how businesses can use design to explore emerging opportunities, solve complex problems, and achieve lasting strategic advantage.

Following along via the backchannel on Twitter, one theme quickly came into focus on day one. Practitioners of design thinking are constantly challenged with communicating the value of their work to stake holders.

Ryan Pikkel from Doblin  summed it up eloquently with his tweet:

How to sell the process or measure the results of design strategy, was a popular subject in the talks and in the informal conversations during breaks and in the halls. Designers need to be just as good as communicating about their craft as about their solution to “business,” and anyone talking about the tools to do that was extremely popular.




Early on Jeff Semenchuk shared his processes and successes driving innovation in large enterprises including Citi, Pfizer, and now Hyatt. His slides about his team’s innovation processes and how to document the ROI of innovation projects had everyone clicking away with their iPhones.

Tying together metrics and outcomes for design isn’t easy. Many business struggle to find the time and budget to invest in design. Even while citing the success of design-led business like Apple, they often stumble when trying to follow the same path.

The hard truth is that design-led teams often have to fight for resources and attention. Success comes from having the right tools both in the design studio and the conference room.

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One Response to “How To Talk To People About What We Do”

  1. Michael Simborg
    May 15, 2012 at 3:30 pm #

    Stating the value proposition of design thinking to non-believers is a daily struggle for designers and engineers and anyone below the MBA/C-class “executive level” when there are entrenched cognitive biases, wrote processes and top-down decision making unless someone at the top believes in or is open to or embraces it. As Jeff and others stated at the conference, applying old or even existing metrics to design thinking and innovation can be fatal, that the current and older models of planning are obsolete. The reason why people at this conference gasped when hearing metrics and ROI etc is not because we are not communicating the value of design thinking or innovation clearly but that we are not taking additional steps to show new ways of doing metrics on these efforts in ways that the messages sell or can be received. It’s a “wicked problem” for designers who largely do not have the jargon in pocket to convey new systems in ways that others outside this stereotypically small community that are accessible. Pat Whitney has a great starting point for this: do you see pain in your future… And if you see pain will your existing efforts answer to it? If the answer is yes/no then maybe it is time to embrace something different. If the answer is no/yes design thinking should go away.

    The other option I have found to work is from “Hacking Work” where you don’t even go through the vetting process or try and sell an idea through the traditional channels but just work on it, work around the obstacles, then present through the normal channels in ways that ooh and aah and show undeniable proof of existence rather than some lofty idea proposal with no legs.