Design orgs, and the design profession, needs to get its shit together before expecting others to do so.

He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” – John 8:7

How you run your design org is doing more to inhibit its potential than anything else within your company

An impetus for writing Org Design for Design Orgs was a realization I had when taking over design at Groupon. The design team complained that they weren’t respected, listened to, or otherwise able to make the impact they felt they deserved. Yet what I saw was that the broader company wanted the benefits of great design, and in fact it was the design team getting in its own way (through poor recruiting and hiring practices; unsophisticated design approaches; unhelpful cross-functional relationships) that was inhibiting their impact.

This has been a common theme throughout my career — no one blunts the potential for design better than designers themselves.

It’s a reason why the book focuses on design organizations specifically. Many designers and design leaders expect the rest of the company to roll out the red carpet for them, but even if they did that the design org would just stumble along it, because it is poorly run. Design leaders need to focus on what they can control, where they have authority, and that’s in their own teams. It can be a distraction to get caught up in the Bigger Problems of the company, and that distraction can turn into a convenient excuse for not sticking to your knitting.

While the rest of the organization likely has a number of shortcomings, it’s too easy to point fingers at others and not do the hard work of getting your own shit together. There’s no reason design organizations cannot model operational best practices. And, it’s easier to persuade others when you’ve made it clear that you know what you are doing.

Now do the whole design profession

What holds true for design organizations also holds true for the emerging design profession. Designers are really good at pointing out the faults in other functions (product management and marketing in particular). But we, as a profession, need to look within and resolve some difficult issues before we freely cast aspersions elsewhere.

This post was in part inspired by this tweet:

As some respondents immediately said, “what about product managers? engineers? etc.” Let those professional communities resolve their own shit. We’ve got enough to do to. And we will have a longer lasting impact if we establish meaningful professional standards that lay productive ground rules for how design-as-a-profession is engaged.