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  • Writer's pictureSimon Barman-Jenssen

Using Design Productively

Updated: Oct 4, 2019

Before we start this blog post, I'd like to address my own passion for design. I've come to realize the magnificence of great design and the many ways it can be used. As you will read further on, design can be used under any circumstances and is a great tool for understanding a problem and coming up with the correct solutions. It puts the user in center and lets their needs form the end result.

It is also important to state that these are not only my reflections. I did not come up with all of this on my own but through discussion with people who have this as a profession. This blog post is a result of the inspiration they have given me and also my own thoughts after starting to use some of their tools and methods. But to start all off, what is design?

What is design?

Design is easily misunderstood and there is a ton of different definitions, all with a different conclusion. Therefor, I'll be careful to state that my way of defining it is the correct way, but I feel that it is a perspective that should be shared. It is also important do address that the word design is used to describe two vastly different things. one, the end product, and two, the process of creating the end product. For this post I will only be addressing the last aspect since I find it the most commonly forgotten. Being end users we usually focus on what we are presented with and that is usually the finished product, so it makes sense. But does the finished product actually say anything about what design is? Or does it say everything? Or maybe both?

This is a great design


This is a great product of design

When someone says "Wow, this is a great design" they are actually implying that the designer who made the design did an amazing job researching the users behaviours, coming up with the best possible solution based on that research. So the design is actually a product of great design, not a great design alone. The reason why this point is important to address is because design is so much more than what meets the eye. Design is a way of thinking, a methodology, a tool which can be used in almost every problem solving scenarios and ideation phases. There is a reason why designers now find themselves included in strategy meetings, boards and other decision making processes. Because it is the creation process which makes the difference.

"Designer" is not a protected title so anyone who wants to describe themselves using the term are free to do so. This also makes it very hard to define what a designer actually is. As a result of this we have seen a lot of new more specific titles emerge over the laste 10 - 20 years; Web designer, Interior designer, Service designer, Experience designer, Graphic designer, Industrial product designer, Fashion designer, UI/UX designer, Motion graphic designer and so on. All of these help us to differ one designer from another based on what field they are working in but it doesn't change the fact that everyone can still use all of them.

Now, why is this important?

If we compare designers with another profession, lets say a teacher, it makes it a bit clearer. A teacher usually study for 4 - 5 years before they can be permanently employed at a school (at least in Norway). Comparing a educated teacher to an uneducated one, we might not see that big of a difference in the curriculum but we will in most cases be able to set them apart on how they pervay the information. Teachers go through a lot of classes on pedagogy and child psychology to understand how they make information stick and this changes their way of teaching and we can see a clear difference in results afterwards.

I am not saying that no teachers do excellent without any academic background, but on a general basis, this is the case. And the same goes for designers. There are excellent designers out there, both with or without a formal academic background but education makes a big difference in most cases. Lets say you are presented with to logos for a water bottle company. One of the logos have the shape of a bottle with the name of the company on the label. The other one does not resemble a bottle at all but it gives you a feeling of tradition, heritage and quality.

The difference comes down to the process, as mentioned earlier on. Most people can come up with the idea of having a bottle in the logo but few can come up with the feeling you want to purvey. Take Wells Fargo for instance. Wells Fargo & Company is a bank, funded in San Francisco CA, USA in 1852. Their logo says nothing about money, banking, stocks or any other aspect of their product line, but it carries a historical feeling with it. The choice of color reminds you of a western movie and so does the stagecoach. None of them make you understand the business but they make you think that they have been around for a long time. Maybe you even subconsciously think that "these people know what they are doing" just based on the fact that their logo looks old, that makes them reliable since they must have been around for a long time. In the bank industry that might be the most important aspect. Everyone wants someone with experience to handle their money.

(Wells Fargo's logo)

Now, taking an education in i.e. graphic design does not make joy a photoshop superhero. It doesn't make you throw out great logos let and right, but it gives you the tools to write meaning into them. And this is what I mean about the underlaying process of great design.

The process

Before I move on I think it is important to mention that I am not a designer myself. I have good experience working with them through my time in Northern Norways Center of Design And Architecture (NODA) but I would never address myself with that title. The process I am now diving into is something I have experience with since it carries over to other processes also. It is also something that cannot be thought only by reading. It has to be practiced.

Many of you may know the methodology Design Thinking (DT). If you are familiar with it, you are going to catch this next parts pretty easily, but if you don't, maybe you know LEAN or Agile? A lot of people mix these three together and I will therefor include a definition to their differences:

Lean focuses on optimising a product/service/process by removing “waste” so that you can deliver on the best possible experience for your customer. This assumes that this “experience” is right for your customer in the first place. Design Thinking is what you use to determine if it’s right or not. -

Design Thinking is all about the end user. Every choice which is made is made on their behalf. The reason why that is important is because it helps us solve the right problem, not the problem we set out to solve. For instance, lets say that you want to shorten the time your guest have to stand in line to buy their coffee. The coffee shop owner chooses to hire a carpenter to expand the front desk so it can fit another register. The re-build sets him back $5000 and he now need two people to take orders, but the lines are still just as long.

In this example the person chose the solution before finding the source of the problem. If he had listened to and analyzed his customers feedback he might have learned that the menues that are hanging over the desk have a hard to read font and the letters are too small. People in line were not able to read it whilst waiting and had to do it when they arrived at the front of the desk. This is a nutshell example but it explained the basics. Analyze, listen, define and execute.

Another important part of this process is to always loop back and evaluate you previous work. You analyze, listen, than analyze with the newly acquired information and then you listen again. Then you define and listen to the feedback and so on. The reason why we should do this is too ensure that we still are heading in the right direction.

( A illustration of how a full cycle process could look )

When completing this process you will often see that the results are very different from what you thought it would be when going in. The problem changes for each loop but you are left with the right problem to solve and the right solution for it.

Another example taken from real life. A friend of mine told me about a start-up which set out to create the worlds safest child seat for use in cars. They went through vigorous testing and spent a lot of resources on making it absolutely perfect. When they were done they had succeeded. The seat was the safest ever made.. but it weighed a ton. It was almost impossible to take in and out of the car, It could not transform into a stroller and it didn't look good at all. If they had listened more to the customer they would have realized that they would gladly sacrifice a share of the safety if it gave them more flexibility and a light weight.

This illustrates the importance of an inclusive preliminary process. A logo can be made in 5 minutes and look good, but does it tell the right story or purvey the right message? By using a method like this, you might have a bigger chance on making it right the first time around.

It is also important to mention that not all designers work this way. But you will often see a few of the steps in their work flow.

Designing the experience

Now we have talked about how the design methodology works but how can this be transferred into other processes. service i.e.?

Service design it taking DT one step further. Instead of solving one stand-alone problem, service design takes the whole guest journey and analyzes it as a whole, looking for friction points, bottle necks and other areas of tension or stress. Usually this is a long chain of smaller problems which are solved in order to ensure a smooth and friction free experience for the guest.

The result of the first analysis might look something like this:

It maps out all the touch-points the guest has that can effect the over all experience. This also include services provided by others that might effect the experience. i.e. bad signage in the buss terminal, lack of vending machines at the airport and so on. This is important to include to make sure that you understand the entire journey. Maybe you can start offering a complimentary snickers to all your guest since you know there hasn't been any possibility for the guest to buy one before arriving.

After you have mapped out all the touch-points, you start analyzing each one of them. What is important at this point for the guest? How can we make this even smoother? For each point you get to, you follow through the DT process to make sure that you are solving the correct problem for the guest. Maybe you move the reception, or maybe you send one extra email to verify their booking one day in advance since your analysis shows that many people loose their travel papers and realize it the day before they leave.

If you decide not to use this method, it's still a really good exercise to visualize the entire journey and there are many good examples of how it works and the results it give.


To round it all up, design is so much more than a fancy chair or a cool logo. Design is everything leading up to it. Its the thoughts that go into the details that leave an impression. The biggest mistake that quite often happens is that the designer is included too late in the process. Either the process has come too far to make the necessary changes or the designer ends up with too little time to make it what it could have been. Next time you look at something, ask yourself, which thoughts went into this?

- Simon

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