Telling the story of design

This week I held a webinar on the Story of Design.

The webinar was not on the story of design, as in "a history of design or design thinking." What I wanted to share with the attendees and now with you, our readers, is more about how you can tell the story of design to those around you. 

One of the most common questions that arises from our work with clients and through our Huddle Academy programs is around this challenge:

"I'm sold, but how do I convince others?"

One of the things we emphasis over and over again here at Huddle is the fundamental-ness of being human, and connecting with other humans. Humans are what organisations and cultures and societies and projects and things are made of. As our managing director Cam likes to say "Huddle doesn't exist. We exist. We are Huddle. Without us, Huddle is not a thing."

And we all understand what it is to be human. The kinds of things that motivate us, resonate with us or compel us to act. And these things are more often than not emotions, experiences, values and beliefs. More so than data, explanations, directives and lectures.  

This is why and how marketing and advertising works. How inspirational and motivational speakers work. Why some of us are drawn to religions, spiritual practices, movements and causes. Why some of us quit smoking and some of us never start. We are shaped by, and respond to, our emotions, experiences, values and beliefs. All the facts in the world won't necessarily stop a smoker from a pack-a-day habit, but a jarring experience or a realignment of what they value might. We operate from experience and emotion more than we'd like to admit.  

So before you go charging in with your intent to convince, cajole, critique etc. etc., it can be useful to reflect on the following.

Start with humility

We are all wrong. A lot. Humans are irrational and illogical and blind in ways we don't even know we're blind. So before you begin to try something human-centred design related, the first thing you should do is recognise and remember that you might be wrong. So start with humility and go from there. 

One of the most powerful things to say as a designer is “I don’t know… but I know how to get there.”

Start where they are 

Bring the cynics, the soap boxers, and the critics to the table. If you've ever seen 'desire pathways’ diverging from pavements, you'll know the stark difference that shows up sometimes between what we want people to do and what they actually do. It’s the same when designing with people. 

Don’t be the designer who forces them to go around on the footpath you've laid out—listen and observe and seek to understand who they are and where they are coming from and where they are trying to go.

Be inclusive 

One of the best approaches to exposing someone new to design thinking is to take a design thinking mindset to introducing them to design (so meta).
At Huddle we talk about human-centred design stances, such as being curious, courageous and collaborative. Remind them design thinking is not as foreign as it might seem: you are a problem-solver, you are creative and you can do design. Take them with you, use inclusive language and bring them into conversations, meet them where they are.

Meet the need 

Find out what they value and figure out how to provide it. Negotiating for your own objectives can be heavy on trade-offs, bargaining and competition to come out on top. Design is inherently collaborative and recognises the solution that most effectively marries up desirability, possibility and viability to create the most value as the best solution.  The fourth Huddle stance for designing with people is "be in service with".  Don't see someone else's goals as things to overcome; see them as your goals to achieve in complement to whatever else you've got going.  

Even the most antagonistic and skeptical partner will become more receptive if you have something to offer that they value.  

An example of this is innovation. Organisations want innovation. Because innovation is new and additional value. It's adaptation. Design and experimentation underpin this. If you want innovation, you have to be willing to support and engage in exploration and trying new things to see what sticks.  


Some key ideas from this webinar and article that I believe you should take away are:

  • Have confidence in the process; not certainty around the result
  • Ask questions, and be honest when you don't know. 
  • Stories beat explanations, every time.  (And quotes and images can count as stories).
  • Give the gift of realisation. Think of the monkeys and bananas parable.  
  • Show, don't tell. Often we respond much better to a demonstration of something than we do to an explanation of something. Seeing something work is more persuasive than being told it will.

Many of these things work because of belief, emotional impact and potential: many of us will more readily believe something that is being shown to us than being told to us. Stories and "aha moments" connect with us emotionally, which is more powerful than learning something cerebrally. And these demonstrations and realisations allow us to imagine other things—we are free to make the logical leaps and connections for how else we could apply or benefit from this thing we have just seen.  Gift this experience to those you want to bring with you and they are more likely to meet you where you are and walk with you as you go.


   —Steph Mellor 
       Design Director @ Huddle

Did you miss this webinar? Contact us to find out more, or let us know what you'd like us to cover in future webinars.


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