What is design management?

At first glance, one can assume that design management focuses on teaching managers how to design or rather teaching designers how to manage and, though I have a secret desire for designers to rule the world, the discipline of design management goes far beyond the simple combination of these two subjects.

Regarding design management, the subject under discussion is the acknowledgement of design as a method. This happens because, has I am sure all designers will agree, to be a designer is a way of life, questioning every detail in a premise of never-ending insatisfaction. Unlike managers, who focus on aswering the question, the designers, whenever possible, question the question itself, not because they are stubborn but because they are persistent in believing they can do more and better.

The designer is alert to the different fields of intervention of the organisations  be it addressing the definition of a corporate identity, the development of products and/or services or even environments, but most importantly taking under consideration that to each field of intervention is attributed a pragmatic dimension (regarding it’s function), a syntactic dimension (regarding it’s structure) and a semantic dimension (regarding it’s meaning).

In that sense, if these fields of intervention are, unequivocally, the same fields of intervention of design, we are now discussing an holistic approach to design, which will be reflected at an operational, tactical and strategic level.

Even more so, design’s very own methodology, design thinking, embraces the need of the user/consumer without questioning the person but rather recognising the meaning of the performed interaction, which is clearly an adaptable approach to any kind of activity or discipline.

It just so happens that, usually, the designer’s starting point is a briefing. And I am sure that many others such as myself, have faced incomplete briefings or even too narrowed, sometimes reaching the point-of-no-return, which is when they actually send you the picture or headline to use. This is an example that design is not made only by designers. =) Angela Dumas and Peter Gorb, pioneers in teaching design to managers, refer to it as silent-design, covering all design decisions made by non-designers. This is the reality. But it is not a reality to fight against. It is a reality that should be embraced.

If design intervenes in the different fields of intervention of the organizations, it has to be aknowledged as strategic tool, as far as I’m concerned, extremely powerful. And this is where design management will come through, by integrating the interdisciplinary nature of design within the organizations, starting from the strategic level (top management), through the tactical level (middle management) until the operational level (low management).

As João Branco would say, we have to be realistic and demand the impossible because everything that seems distant may, in fact, be right in front of us. I believe design is the driving force of the XXI century and that, through an holistic and ecologically sustainable management, we can create a better world, everyday.

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