Design is Fundamental

December 4, 2023

I’ve been having many conversations lately with companies where it’s pretty clear that how I use the word “design” is radically different from how others understand it.

The way I think about design is best defined by Wikipedia – which is never wrong:

A design is a plan or specification for the construction of an object or system or for the implementation of an activity or process or the result of that plan or specification in the form of a prototype, product, or process.

Most people seem to be thinking of aesthetics or how it looks. I usually respond, “I don’t care how it looks,” which is partially true. I expect anything I’m involved with to be aesthetically at the highest level. But wallpaper can’t fix structural damage. The design has to be considered from the start and adapted along the way.

Or, as Steve Jobs infamously said:

Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.

In that particular instance, he talked about the legendary iPod, an object. But Apple Inc. is a system, and don’t think for a second that the company wasn’t designed as well.

I want to see more leaders understand the deeper meaning of design – at the core of their businesses. If you get that right, designing everything else becomes a heck of a lot more effective.