Ever left a meeting uttering the phrase "our stakeholders don't 'get' design"? If so, perhaps it's time to be the designer who 'gets' business.
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Issue 013

The designer who 'gets' business.

Have you ever returned from a frustrating meeting with non-designers, uttering the phrase "our business stakeholders just don't get design"?

I have.

But what do we mean when we say this, and how do we expect colleagues who get design to behave?

Do we expect them to understand every detail of the design process? To master our tools? 
To care about design quality as much as we do? To follow design's latest trends and attend our conferences?

Not really.

When we complain that a stakeholder doesn't get design, we're not expecting them to have a comparable level of design acumen to us. The knowledge bar is much lower than this.

When we're frustrated at those who don't get it, we're usually referring to their attitude.

It could be their reluctance to understand what we do. We may feel disheartened if they've not taken time to appreciate the value of our work.

Perhaps they don't involve us in key conversations or decision making. 

Here's a few traits we might hope to see in someone who 'gets' a discipline other than their own:

  • Advocating for another discipline's involvement in meetings.
  • Making space for their voice in discussions.
  • Seeing the value in the discipline's contributions.
  • Expressing curiosity about how the discipline approaches their work.

Colleagues who behave this way can seem a rare breed.

It's common to feel a greater connection with non-designers who fit this mould. 
We'll often feel incentivised to make these relationships even stronger.

Those who make space for designers may have earned a little more room in our world.

Their enthusiasm for design could mean we go the extra mile to arm them with the design deliverables they need for success in their job. We might be more generous with our time, and patient when explaining our approach.

'Getting it' works both ways.

If we value the behaviour of design advocates so much, what could we gain by mirroring their mindset?

Being the designer who 'gets' business could have an equally positive effect on our non-design colleagues. Perhaps they'll view us as positively as we perceive those who have taken the time to understand our discipline?

If you're looking to have more business impact this year and don't know where to start, consider exhibiting the behaviour of those colleagues who seem to get design.

Be the designer in the room who is open-minded to your business-focused colleagues, keen to learn from them on your journey to business confidence.

This doesn't mean adopting their mindset or sacrificing your own values. It's rarely necessary to pour over business books or sign up for an MBA to be taken seriously by your stakeholders.

What it does require is a concerted effort to appreciate the motivations and viewpoints of those we might not naturally see alignment with across the meeting room table.

Be curious.

Designers are naturally inquisitive. Direct that curiosity toward your non-designer colleagues. Take the 'get it' approach into your interactions with those we hope to influence and build relationships with.

Express a genuine interest and adopt beginners' mindset when learning more about their world. You'll be amazed at the doors this pragmatic attitude opens and the better working relationships it helps you to foster.

So instead of reaching for a business book as your first step towards business confidence this year, reach out to a colleague who could help you learn how business works at your organisation.

You might be pleasantly surprised how often this 'get it' behaviour is reciprocated.

Tom Prior
Curator of Designers in Business


[email protected]
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