From nightclubs to banks. Why designers are needed across every industry.

About a year ago, I met a designer who was working for a popular nightclub in Singapore, in charge of producing groovy posters and websites for all happening nightclub events. Now he is my dear colleauge in experience design team at OCBC Bank, immediately became a super star ( known as a ‘magician’ ) blowing away bankers by solving complex business problems visually. DesignfulCo. is delighted to share his rants to designers, why designers are needed across every industry.

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“You’re a designer? what are you doing in a bank?”

That’s the question I get asked the most when people find out my profession. So here’s my take on it all, after almost a year in the bank.

Designers are all about fancy visuals, ad campaigns, cool stuff right? You can see it everywhere in most design schools, the aspirations and dreams to join a big name agency, to live the life of a high-flying award winning creative director. It’s all about coming up with the next big campaign idea or product or poster.

So why in the world, would a designer join an industry known for legal complications, numbers, boring designs and tons of paper work? To top it off, my jump was a switch after 4 years of doing design work for nightclubs and design agencies, the complete opposite of what a bank is.

Here’s the reason why: To be a better designer.

8 months after joining the bank, I’ve learnt more about what real design is than my entire time in marketing and design agencies. It has opened my eyes to how good design thinking can impact customer experience first hand, from the idea to the end product, and the result it brings. This I could not find in traditional agencies.

The old ways.

Traditional models of how designers work starts with a creative brief. From there you work with whoever you need to, maybe the art director, the client, producers, copywriters, to create what we all hope will be the next big revolutionary idea to blow sales through the roof and win a ton of awards.

If it goes bad, then it’s the designer’s fault, or the execution, or something along the line.

But what if the brief was wrong to begin with? Maybe we climbed all the way up a ladder just to realize it was placed on the wrong wall? Maybe we targeted the wrong audience, maybe the audience didn’t need what we were selling in the first place.

The more design execution you do, the more you start to wonder how much impact your work has on the client’s business, if any at all. You start to wonder what happens before the brief, and what happens after your work is done.

There must be more to it than just the brief. This is where things start to get interesting.

How do we know what customers want in the first place? Where does the research come from? How do we know we’re doing the right thing? And how do we know the designs we create are solving the problems in the brief?

Then you also wonder what happens after the brief. Did my design bring in more customers? Increase sales? Help our client meet targets or worst, did it frustrate their customers? Give them a negative impression?

How do we know? In traditional working models, we don’t. Designers are cut from the big picture. The larger and older the agency, the more we’re made into cookie cutters, just people that execute designs. Unless you climb the ropes to higher management, you wont be able to see what really goes on before or after your involvement.

Design is not just about aesthetics. It’s the experience.

Eventually you start to realize that design is not just about aesthetics. It’s about solving problems and improving the lives of whoever you are designing for.

How?

Experience design example:
IKEA Assumbling New Sofa
Source: http://articles.marco.org/70

By designing or crafting a great experience. The experience of using a phone (iPhone), a laptop (OSX), placing an online order (Amazon), opening the box of a new camera (Leica), assembling your new sofa (IKEA), being engaged in an impressive ad campaign or just buying something from a store (Cartier, Kirk).

Everything the customer goes through, good or bad, is a direct result of how everything was designed around them. Their experience will make or break your product. It will generate good publicity or give a public relations nightmare.

That’s why everything the customer goes through can and should be designed as best as they can be. That’s where we as designers come in. Once you realize this, you can apply your skills and tools as a designer across every available medium and industry.

Design thinking is the center of creating great experiences.

From print to web, from movies to events, from interiors to architecture, from lighting to sound. They span across multiple billion dollar industries and professions. Yet they all try to do the same thing. Create an experience that their audience will remember.

When you strip away all the knowledge and technical expertise, they all share the same mindset and approach. Design thinking.

Design thinking is a way of approaching any problem. Understanding the audience, innovating with this new understanding, testing with the audience then improving and testing again to make it better. It’s this iterative approach that makes designers designers, Apple apple, Pixar pixar, Nike Nike and even McDonald, McDonald.

McDonald’s business success
source: http://frugaldad.com/mcdonalds/

All of the above companies take feedback and testing from their audience very seriously. They continually improve on their designs and ideas to create the best possible experience for their audience.While everyone else was trying to add more and more, Apple understood what people wanted and made things simpler and simpler. While everyone else was creating animated musicals, Pixar created the first animated movie with emotions that made a real connection with the audience. While everyone else was trying to figure out how to make their products cost less, Nike was busy working with the best athletes to create products that worked. While everyone was selling food for adults, McDonalds looked at what kids wanted, and the happy meal was created. The profit from happy meals alone makes up for more than all profits of every other fast food outlets combined.

Innovation comes from understanding your audience. You cannot design a solution without understanding the problem. Designing without understanding is creating art. Those who fail to understand their audience and take feedback will definitely fall behind.

The value of you, a designer.

That’s all nice and dandy. But how does that all relate to me as a designer?

Your skills. Your attention to detail. Your mastery of creation tools. Your eye for color, form, function and even typography. People are attracted to beauty, things that look good. As designers you know how to create that. You know how to invoke feelings and reactions through colors, pictures, visuals. It is a critical component in creating great experiences.

Throughout your career, you will gain more and more skills and tools to add to your arsenal. Combine it with the fundamentals of design thinking, and your potential to create and shape experiences is unlimited. While non-designers struggle to translate their ideas to others, you have the ability to impress and motivate.

Designers are not limited to working in design agencies. Designers are needed everywhere, and are perfectly self sufficient working for themselves. With the right people, design thinking and tools, the world is yours to shape.

So where do you want to work today?

Ming Jie /www.ambitious.com.sg

9 thoughts on “From nightclubs to banks. Why designers are needed across every industry.

  1. Thanks for such a thoughtful and concise article. One of my design challenges is to bring simplicity to banking too. So, I just can’t agree more on every word of this article. I would add that we all, even those who don’t have a professional or academic background in design, are designers. As 1978 Nobel Laureate in Economics, Herbert Simon used to say, “A designer is anyone who devises ways to change existing situations into preferred ones”. So, let’s unleash that potential and start creating meaningful experiences.

  2. Good article. Makes me feel reassure that being a designer is about creating things and solving problems creatively with all tools at hands, not about getting certificates and cranking out standardized design with “the standard approach” taught in school like a cookie cutter.

  3. @jeepu – love your coverage on different signs in japan. The way they choose to represent ideas graphically is interesting to see.
    @Li Li – thanks~! haha

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