I wrote this piece as a note to myself, but someone else could use this insight, too. I hope it won't increase the cacophony of current conversations (Design vs. Product vs. the rest of the world).

Let's do this...

I've been "guns for hire" for the last decade.

In my journey through the trenches of product design, I found that a scarcity of opportunities, tools, or resources didn't make collaboration difficult.

Nope. It was the misunderstanding about what designers do, what value they can bring and how their work relates to the other roles within the organisation.

Because of that, we couldn't align expectations. And from here, it all goes South.

Big companies can use piles of cash to bulldoze through projects and human capital. Meanwhile, startups are biting the dust, and those in the middle? They constantly battle to deliver value while struggling to retain good people.

In this context, people would feel underappreciated, overworked or all of the above.

I see this as all boils down to role clarity and the choreography of a symbiotic dance between teams, guided by the sound of an overarching vision and within the boundaries of the internal culture.

There is no replacement for this. The team at the top of every business is responsible for this balance. This job can't be ignored or pushed down the food chain.

Right now, we've got a chorus of designers out there lamenting their absence from the decision-making table—a testament to a widespread epidemic. The struggle is real; I can attest to that. The sound of it gets louder the moment you open LinkedIn. [Just a heads up - there is no table, or if there is one, there are no chairs... big companies behave like startups, moving fast, breaking things and people.]

The network [read LinkedIn] is ablaze with tales of the rift between product folks and designers, painting (for some) a picture of a grand misunderstanding. You can get lost in those conversations, get angry, cynic, bitter, tired, or anything in between. To me, those conversations are radioactive.

Where am I going with this? As a designer, I have a narrow argument and a plea to make:

We must remember that Design isn't just some afterthought or a pretty veneer. It's the bedrock of any product worth its salt. Good Design is about tuning into the zeitgeist—anticipating consumer desires, scouting the competitive landscape, and pushing the technological envelope. That sounds so sophisticated, but it isn't.

In one sentence, Design is a function that allows individuals and organisations to articulate, communicate and deliver value to their customers and shareholders.

This core function can't be starved, kept on food stamps or overfed. It can't be missing or take over a process.

However, without a concrete product vision and a sensible product architecture to guide innovation, without synchronised strategies, all you have are fancy concepts with no legs and confused solutions, knocking doors and looking for problems to solve.

Without a good story and creative storytellers, a designer can't cut through the noise and deliver a solution. Without support at the higher level in the company, Design becomes a secondary function, threatened with the following: Do what you are told, or we will find someone who will make my idea pretty.

[That place… That place is dark and can break people, products, businesses and even the world.]

The plea:

We find ourselves at this point where we must recognise ALL the roles within companies and their relationships beyond a sh*t hierarchy diagram put together by an aspiring COO.

For this to happen, we must reconsider our foundation, principles, values, and essential questions every business must ask: What, why, when, and most importantly, how?

We (as designers) can start by cutting the oxygen from useless arguments and instead engage in conversations where we learn and teach how to become better collaborators, partners... better people.

Copyright © Alin Buda. All rights reserved. Trademarks, brands and some of the images are the property of their respective owners.
Some images were sourced from Pexels™ and Unsplash™.