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4 Faces of Value Driven Design

Catalina Butnaru - Monday, March 05, 2012 |

Creating value through design is an out-of-the-box skill that some people may call entrepreneurship, while others may describe it as vision. Whichever side you are on, the ability to create value through design leads to the same outstanding result: CHANGE. Advances in design and technology have led to significant changes in world's economy, arguably more than any other social or political event so far.

Therefore, as a value-driven designer, you will constantly be looking to solve problems and remove dead-ends, in an attempt to help people embrace change before it's too late. This article reveals the four faces of value-driven design, and shows how your work as a designer can generate more value, rather than revenue alone, for the next generation.

"You Don't Need Planning Permission to Build Castles in the Sky" by Banksy

Instrumental Design

Design is instrumental in generating value if it facilitates discovery or innovation. There are more and more solutions today coming from a designer's perspective, that are meant to solve social problems. For example - how children learn and interact in the school environment. In this case, design becomes instrumental as it facilitates learning. If you can't afford solving social issues at the moment, there are other alternatives.

For example, design is instrumental in understanding the concept behind an infographic, an area of abstract exploration born at the intersection of journalism, data analysis and storytelling. Design is only part of the process. Being a designer capable of making aesthetically pleasing designs is not enough to create an infographic that clearly conveys data, but design skills are what helps an infographic achieve it's goal.

For infographics, instrumental design creates value by facilitating understanding. It enables people to visualize information that may be difficult to process at once. It creates a new level of understanding, a top-down perspective on multiple facts and concepts tied together by complex visualizations. Instrumental design adds value by simplifying analysis and facilitating insight. You can read more about the relationship between design and infographic design in our previous interview with Alberto Cairo, infographics director, teacher and communicator.

Infographic by Alberto Cairo. (source)

Applied Design

Design is applied creativity. Start-ups should know better: applied creativity in the tech industry is one secret to good cashflow. Applied design can generate more value when the business is focused on niche markets, rather than on producing average solutions for an enormous market. Although niche markets can pay more for well designed products that fit their needs, it's not the type of value we are talking about. Applied design does not create value by making it easier for businesses to increase price markup. It creates value by pushing microtrends to the surface and making very specialized hobbies and crafts more appealing to curious new audiences.

For example, Instagram revived the retro & vintage style by making it extremely easy for everybody to apply color filters to photos. Instagram became successful and nowadays there is more talking going on about how much Instagram is worth, rather than why it is worth that much or the impact it really had on people.

Instagram, an award winning app

Iterative Design

As a designer, it's important to have the right mindset about the things you create: instead of making one-off designs, you can improve ideas and extend your product's life cycle. There is more value in sustainable innovation, than in serial entrepreneurship. Similarly, optimizing an existing solution can be more beneficial - both for yourself, and for the end-user.

This kind of mindset is both sustainable and productive. The designer can avoid creative blocks, while spending more time to improve and innovate before moving to the next idea. Pairing usability testing with creativity is the best way to go. Perfection can be achieved in iterations, you don't need to be an idea generation machine to hit the mark.

Prezi, a web based app reinventing presentations

Empowering Design

There are only a few examples o f design empowering people, compared to the overwhelming number of designs serving other goals Most commonly, design empowers people when its manifested in creating products that improve the way we work, communicate and interact with each other. Everything that technology gives us can be more valuable if designed to empower people. A smartphone app designed to test the quality of water, another that helps deaf people realize when other people are talking to them, a free project inspiring people and teaching them new skills - these are just a couple of examples of empowering design.

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Endnote: In an attempt to justify the expense budget, design advocates describe value-driven design in loose terms, commonly overlapping the concept of value with brand reputation and image. However, value-driven design aims to help the consumer and the society in general, not only the business, although as a result, the business may grow to become a global center for innovation and change.

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