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Why does transparency matter in the design process?

Posted on 19/07/2018

Fourth 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?

Given the concerns about how focused the design process really is and the discomfort of created by consultants coming into a business and suggesting there are other ways to do things, it makes sense that not all design collaborations run smoothly. At the ‘Break Through Innovation’ event an attendee asked the designers’ Q&A panel, “Do you have any issues with clients not trusting your insights? How do you manage that?” The panel was unanimous in their answer to this question: make your process as transparent as possible. The way to bring clients on side is to establish trust and be constantly communicating.

Adrian Westaway, from Special Projects, spoke about the ways in which they have kept their working process open. “We document excessively and always tell stories about the process. We make a personal/bespoke documentary about the process and have clients with us for key moments of the design journey. This increases trust in the process and de-risks concerns”.

Robbie Bates, from UsCreates, spoke about the different types of research that can be shared with clients. He advised, “Communicate clearly at all the stages of the project. Don’t do your research in a closed box. There is research for breadth (data trends and patterns) [quantitative] and research for depth (rich stories) [qualitative]. Show these data-sets side by side for increased trust”.

Lucy Stewart, from Snook, suggested pacing as a way to adjust the comfort levels for a client. She explained that on the one hand, “You can always slow down the process if the client is getting nervous. Be responsive to the situation. Don’t force ideas through when they’re not ready”. On the other hand. she also assured that these strategic design reviews need not take up a huge amount of time which is helpful for a nervous client on a tight budget.

Lucy gives the example of Snook completing their work for SafetyNet Technologies within a month. In that short time, they found out a lot of new information from the fishermen, who would be the target market for this new sustainable fishing net technology, and crucially they were able to develop a trusted relationship with that community. This investment in building trust will pay dividends further down the line when the product is in trial phase, and again when it is ready for market.

As designer Peter Fullagar said at the ‘Better collaboration’ table, “Understanding your stakeholders is critical”.  Not only do you want to keep an open channel of communication throughout your work with that business, but you also, “need to be able to deliver the right-formatted information.” He continues, “As an example, Coca Cola is essentially a marketing-led company, and as such they respond better to super slick and polished things being shown to them. A simple sketch won’t cut it”. Joining the conversation Lea Marais added, “And in the NHS they appreciate technical and medical terminology. They want the science”.

Key lessons for designers here are, to respect the expertise of the people you are working with, be diplomatic in your questioning, choose the appropriate style and language for the organisation you are working in, and invite stakeholders into the process from the beginning to establish transparency for a trusted collaboration.

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?