Aligned values

To invest in art and design means putting public money into areas whose value cannot be captured on a spreadsheet

If you’ve ever worked with clients, you’ve probably had a brief that reads something like: ‘We need a [x] to increase our [x], by [x]’. Studios and agencies are often hired to ‘get results’ for a goal—and on a medium—that’ve been settled on before the first meeting.

Rather than simply delivering the artefact, isn’t the whole point to explore beyond it? To challenge what led to the chase for the goal in the first place. To study an organisation’s DNA and discover what they’re trying to do, why they’re trying to do it and whether design can offer a better way.

Doing this involves something organisations are generally averse to — risk. It requires acceptance that the results of the process might not be immediately measurable, or at least not measurable in a way marketers can use.

This process is largely what I understand user experience design to be. Not a box of tricks or exercises hacked into a process where the output is already known, but an approach to questioning the validity of that output in the first place. It shouldn’t need a new label—it’s just good design. But let’s leave UX definitions out of this. I don’t want to incite a riot.

The respect and trust required to prove design is capable of more has to be earned. To do that, we have to believe that design being disruptive and challenging assumptions actually produces better responses. I’m interested in how we earn that respect and trust.

It isn’t enough to do the work, or to simply believe in what we’re doing. We have to give people enough reasons to believe it for themselves. Only by living our values and beliefs can we expect to work with people who’s own values and beliefs align with ours. This is important, because it’s when our values and beliefs align that we do our best work.

This is not just about working with clients, either. This is about our colleagues in our product teams. Really, it’s about working in any team.

Simon Sinek likes to point out that The Wright brothers didn’t win the aviation race by having the education, funding, public support or big-wigs of the day on their side. They had none of that. They won the race by giving a small, local team reason to believe in what they were doing. They were united under a banner of shared values, beliefs and purpose. The same can be said for the achievements of Dr. Martin Luther King in the civil rights movement, and of Steve Jobs in the triumps of Apple.

Aligned values breed trust, responsibility and accountability in the face of risk. They are the tenets of a relationship that allow hard questions to be asked, assumptions to be challenged and uncharted territory to be explored — knowing that what we find might not fit on a spreadsheet.