I recently wrote a post about my struggle to describe simply an interdisciplinary, participatory design practice. I ended up with two words: deep design. In truth, deep design is just design as it should be, but the word “design” is so abused right now that it needs a modifier. Case in point…
There’s a lot of talk right now on LinkedIn, Co.Design and the four corners of the Internet about how organizations need to embrace design to maximize “innovation” and “disruption.” Your organization needs to be “design-driven.” Your organization doesn’t just need thinking, it needs “design thinking” whatever the fuck that is. Put designers on every team, and you will have “innovation.” Guaranteed. Apple did it and “disrupted” everything. Google’s doing it and is getting patted on the back in Wired. You too can embrace design, “disrupt” something, and “innovate” off into the sunset.
Here’s the problem. Embracing design does not mean putting a token designer on every team, creating a dazzling style guide that leaves nothing to the imagination, or making your “buy this” or “donate now” button rounder. Golden Krishna says it well in his book The Best Interface is No Interface. If you have a problem, do not “slap an interface on it.” But Krishna, in my opinion, does not go far enough.
Deeply embracing design means questioning everything about a problem as well as how your organization is arranged to solve it. It also means changing every cherished structure, department, and job title if they get in the way of doing something great.
And that’s why I’ve started saying deep design. Because our mind-jacked culture needs a phrase that conveys how:
- design doesn’t stop at how something looks, how it functions, or even at somebody’s “experience” of it;
- design is not only designing the thing itself, but also transforming its context;
- design is understanding deeply the cause of a problem and designing transformative solutions in collaboration with the people most affected.
It can be as simple as involving the staff who are responsible for updating a website in the design of the tool they’ll use to update it, to as complex as engaging a diverse public in envisioning a city’s new transportation future. In essence, deep design is participatory design, but with a more radical mandate: the solution to a problem might come from transforming or rethinking its entire context.
That’s the promise and the threat of deep design. If you want to do something transformative, you must also do the work of transformation.