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Aug 23, 2006


Patrick Syms

You're making total sense.

But to be slightly smartarse about it, didn't each of your bad examples have a designer involved? The lift with the inappropriate emergency button; but the hospital with the poor turning circle; the housing which hindered social interaction; the cars without useful info posted on the windscreen. All of them would have been the work of an architect or designer (I'm using the two interchangebly, hope you don't mind).

I think that this sort of empathetic, putting-yourself-in-the-place-of-those-using-it approach is often present in designers. But clearly isn't in all designers, as your examples prove. But it's also present in many other individuals in many other roles and agency/consultancy types.

But you are right about this trend, just as there has been a trend for clients to get top level advice from management consultants, and before them ad agencies.

I guess this is a longwinded way of saying that yes, it appears to be happening. But time will tell whether it is an evolution in the way that clients seek advice or just another fad.

Best to make the most of it while you can. Just in case.


Design's secret weapon is its ability to make huge differences through small interventions. Your examples prove it.

To say design is the new management consultancy might be a little harsh. Maybe it's better to say it would be wise to consult a designer for small and simple solutions before you ask a management consultancy to attack the problem with a huge turnaround operation - and 32 kilos of reports.


I think you're over hyping what is basically a requirement for common sense and imagination, cababilities that are probably sorely lacking amongst the general populace but not necessarily confined to 'designers'.

I'm reminded of a news article I read a couple of years back which said the US military had approached Hollywood scriptwriters for novel ideas to track down Bin Ladin. Obviously this didn't work very well but I was impressed by the US army's thought process... 'We're not very good at thinking so lets go ask some guys who are'.

One possible outcome of this idea of yours (and perhaps in defence of your post) is going to be a chef inventing a new, more efficient way to peel a potato and calling himself a culinary designer... but he's still a chef.


The big problem with this is that’s hard to find crystal clear examples of it happening. As you’ve all mentioned, the boundaries get blurred and the decent ones are doing it anyway. There was a good example in the Economist before I went on holiday but for the life of me I can’t find I now!

I will try and find better, clearer examples.


I think your observations are spot on. I think that Patrick’s comments are a little harsh. Of course there was a designer involved in the projects mentioned but at what point were they involved in the project? And that’s fundamental to this post.

Generally I think everybody who has, traditionally, been involved at the latter stages of a project wants to get involved up-front. Because they deal with the doing and they see where things went wrong. They are also bored with taking the brunt of “why doesn’t it work” when it’s kind of too late (or too expense) to change anything.

There are dangers however. In my business we already have management consultancies; Print Managers. I think the initial drive behind PM’s (apart from making money) was to get involved early and optimise (they even used the term “design for print”). This effort, has proven to muddy the waters even further though by adding an added layer of administration and reporting. When PM’s do work, they work well and can offer value, but this is largely dependant on the quality of the account people.

A Graphic Designer In London

I agree with all your points, but like one of the other commenters - I also think that your examples are those of bad designers, which highlight the cause for good designers - especially in places like hospitals.

I would suggest that its something that should be tackled at source; art colleges.

Admittedly I left some time ago but I still go to the graduate exhibitions and I think there is far too much focus on contemporary looking work and quick avertising solutions rather than practical solutions for problems not necessarily in the sphere of your work. Getting design students to look at and solve problems like you have highlighted more often would embed some critical thought processes into their work at an early stage in their professions.



Bhav Chohan

Great article, and interesting observation into possible future application of designers in business type roles. I do however have a few questions on the topic of what IDEO call Design Thinking - for anyone qualified to answer:

1.What exactly is design thinking? Isn’t it just a creative behaviour?

2.What impact does design thinking potentially have on the way businesses coan operate?

3.How can corporations take advantage of design thinking in a practical sense?

4.Is there any framework/model/process which can be followed?

5.How does it empower designers?


I would suggest that its something that should be tackled at source; art colleges

Michal Migurski

I'm with Patrick here - all the examples, good and bad, involved a designer. Design may be the new management consultancy, but I don't think that makes it a cure-all by any stretch. The consultancies you mention (Accenture, PWC, etc.) and the ad agencies before them have a reputation for overspecification and mild corruption, no doubt due to the kinds of money that can be made in business therapy. If design ends up filling this niche, you're going to see the IDEOs and Interbrands of the world staff up rapidly to meet to demand, and hire the same kind of second-string blockheads who currently work hard to give management consultancy a bad name.

In response to Juno888, art college is not the source. Plain old high school / secondary school is the source - effective problem solving and sensible thinking should be the domain of an entire society, designers and non-designers alike.

See-ming Lee

Good design is good business.
-- Thomas Watson, CEO of IBM, 1950s


Good design is definitely important but if it doesn't stand for anything isn't it just more noise?
Check these people out: http://www.violetbick.com/
they know about how to make your brand stand out.

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