Design in South Africa is broken

Why Design in South Africa is broken

In Blog article by Freethinking Business Consultants

By Warwick Gill, Principal Consultant at Freethinking

While organisations of every size and shape are rushing to roll-out new apps, responsive web interfaces, and other digital services, the harsh reality is that Design as a practice is fundamentally broken in SA.

Why do I say this?

In the digital arena, design work is still predominantly focused around creating wireframes and prototyping. The true value of design – to shape the nature of user interactions and lead the development of new products and strategies – is largely not recognised by many organisations.

But this doesn’t seem to worry us at the moment. We’re currently riding the crest of a hype-cycle, where a shortage of design skills has pushed salaries and egos through the roof. We have an inflated view of our skills, seniority, ability to implement design, and influence business partners.

We recognise that our primary challenges include promoting holistic design within our organisations and extending our value-add. Because of the demand for wireframing and general skills deficit – we are content to continue with the status quo. The time is approaching where organisations will question the true ROI, and as a community, we may be found wanting.

If you’re a designer, ask yourself the tough questions… Have I tried to elevate the discipline of Design in my organisation?

If you’re a designer, ask yourself the tough questions… Have I tried to elevate the discipline of Design in my organisation? Have I tried to make Design an integral part of every project? Have I examined how to influence the organisation more broadly – to make it more responsive to customer needs, to make it more agile in its thinking? How much time have I spent understanding the business, the industry and incorporating the strategy into my approach? Do I provide insight into the trends influencing human behaviour to influence the strategy?

Ask yourself how thoroughly you have used data as a tool. How many projects include customer research, recording the UX testing sessions, embedding something like Google analytics into the solution? And have I pulled that information back into a tool that can inform the next sprint, the next product iteration?

There’s a worrying parallel to where the IT function was a decade ago. Without being able to effectively appeal to business stakeholders or articulate their value in concrete terms, IT professionals are often sidelined and remain implementers of other’s strategy. The result? We’ve increasingly seen organisations not take advantage of, and deliver value from technology trends – creating space for competitors to disrupt their markets. Everybody is waiting for their ‘Uber’ moment.

By “remaining precious”, and hoarding our rich knowledge of user insights, we run the risk of Design suffering the same fate. It’s time to break out of our craft’s narrow parameters and appeal more to the suits on the other side of the building!

Of course, the craft itself will remain an essential feature of any designer. Perhaps the mighty app will not, in fact, be the ultimate form factor for digital design (as rapid developments in areas like wearable technology and artificial intelligence change the way we interface with companies and with each other), but the craft will always remain.

However, the point is that irrespective of these fashions, Designers everywhere need to start thinking far more seriously about how they can influence organisational strategy – by demonstrating the tangible benefits of Design and design-thinking, by showing their unique insights of customers’ desires.

This, ultimately, will be the only way that we can ‘fix Design’, and allow it to truly change the way businesses and people engage with each other.