THE BLOG
01/16/2014 03:46 am ET Updated Mar 17, 2014

How Words Shape Design Perception

Organizations outfit "war rooms" where strategies are developed for how to beat their competitors and conquer new markets. However, few have "peace rooms" to devise plans for how to leverage their competencies and create a better world by increasing the pie. In the past, people and organizations had problems, aspects or issues, now these are called challenges or opportunities. These are the words we now use to frame our perception of the world around us and, to a large extent; these words dictate how we will deal with it.

Many of the words used in business development and design are inherited from military warfare. Strategy, tactics, eliminating, building a bridgehead and outflanking or outmaneuvering the competition, are just a few of the more obvious ones. Unconsciously, these words foster "us versus them" thinking and, without being aware of it, we have mentally eliminated a huge cluster of business opportunities.

How we see our professional domain and the definitions we use to carve up the design field influences how we go about designing. Product design, industrial design and service design all have more in common than what separates them and there is more variation within their field than between the fields. For example, industrial design covers medical, consumer products, furniture, toys and automotive design and it addresses products, services, experiences and hedonic symbols. With industrial design covering such a wide scope of professions, the difference between industrial design and fashion design seems small. With this in mind, it might be prudent to think twice before erecting fashionable boundaries between different areas of design, as that may not be helpful in improving collaboration.

How we view design on a day-to-day basis and the words we use in the design profession emphasize very different aspects of the value we consciously or unconsciously see design providing. The words for design itself, such as embodiment, formgebung, aesthetics, styling and expression emphasize different aspects, however the actors and the actions required are very similar. This segmentation frames their focus, potentially blinding the designer to otherwise obvious opportunities. For example, if one sees oneself as a car stylist, one may not then explore functional opportunities when designing an automobile.

Our design philosophy, expressed in statements such as "Form follows function", "Less is more," "Clarify, not simplify" and "Design follows desire" reflects on and proposes design heuristics paradigms, or particular ways of looking at design. Since day-to-day design relies on heuristics, or rules-of-thumb for decision-making, these dogmatic ideas unconsciously dictate the outcome, more so than the usually vague design directions teams receive from the outset.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with segmenting and organizing domains or using different words and applying a different perspective to situations, the trick is to do this work deliberately and appropriately as opposed to blindly and dogmatically. Investing the time to explore and establish the most appropriate worldview and design philosophy can provide a huge competitive advantage.

For years, the startup motto was "just do it, " grounded in the belief that since the uncertainty was enormous, the only way to build a firm was simply by doing it enough times. At this stage of our development, "build-measure-learn" is now the new design paradigm, promoting quick intentional learning cycles.

To quote Albert Einstein: "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."