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What is the true benefit of an external perspective?

Posted on 20/07/2018

Fifth article in a series looking at five key insights from KTN’s recent Break Through Innovation Event.

At a day-long conference last month designers and entrepreneurs involved in the Design Foundations projects were invited to share their experiences of working together with a wider audience. KTN presented this event specifically as a way to ‘Break Through Innovation’, a space where businesses could continue the momentum of collaboration and start planning how to get their products to market.

This article is part of a series of articles looks at five stand-out insights of the day, which illuminate both the perceived challenges of going through a human-centred strategic design process and the lucrative results it can produce.

In part four of this series we asked, why does transparency matter in the design process?

Connected to the previous insights about the risk of engaging designers in your business (part 1), allowing your entrepreneurial assumptions to be questioned (part 2), and keeping an open channel of communication during collaboration (part 3), is the question of what happens when you invite a stranger into your midst. As mentioned in the introduction to part 1, designers are multi-skilled consultants and during the design strategy process they provide value in a variety of ways.

One of the most vital values to a business is that designers have the advantage of an external perspective. Running a business is hard work and when heads are down, focused on goals and targets, it can be hard to see what’s going on around you. It can be hard to see the bigger picture. The role of designer as facilitator and even, as Nicholas Sharp commented, as therapist, is not to be underestimated. The design consultant, as an outsider, is freer to do things that might feel difficult for someone inside the business.

Lucy Stewart of Snook gave the example of working with fishermen on the south coast for the SafetyNet Technologies. “Identifying who you want to speak to and then actually speaking to them is hard”, she explains. “Especially when those people are fishermen. We built our relationships carefully over breakfasts, and pints in the pub”. The most effective thing for progress in the project was being able to listen. Lucy describes a co-design session which started with a venting session. “Offer them space to be heard”, Lucy advises. “Enable the gripes to come out”.

Finding out the information you need to know requires patience and perseverance. Once the fishermen felt they had been heard they were then able to engage in the question of how SafetyNet Technologies might be of use to them.

As designer Patrick Towell commented, “design partners end up being translators between disciplines”. They can also be translators between co-founders and teams, as Nicholas Sharp of Crux Product Design has experienced.

Nicholas described a situation where he was able to facilitate an off the cuff discussion between three founding partners in a moment where they all felt stuck. By presenting a blank sheet and asking each of them to tell him where they were at, Nicholas made a breakthrough. Suddenly, information stored away in the founders’ heads poured forth, highlighting their different perspectives, and Nicholas was able to jot it all down on paper. With skilled facilitation these founders, previously at loggerheads, were able to hear each other in a whole new way and this conversation lead to great strides in the project.

The designer can take the role of sounding board or facilitator and create a safe, mediated space for communication between management, between entrepreneurs, and between stakeholders. This external perspective gives people on the inside some much needed space to, as Duncan Fitzsimons says, “step back from what they think they want”. Being the ‘outsider’ is a valuable asset that you can capitalise on as a designer.

Read More about the Insights:

1. Does following a design formula help or hinder?

2. Does success depend on the size of the business?

3. What does it mean to have your ideas challenged?

4. Why does transparency matter in the design process?

5. What is the true benefit of an external perspective?