Jim Misener: How Design Works

Jim Misener is the President at 50,000feet, overseeing the strategic direction of the global brand consultancy and creative agency as well as business development and client services. With brand and creative leadership and experience across financial services, consumer electronics, automotive, retail and luxury, Jim works closely with many of 50,000feet’s clients. Jim has held leadership positions at global agencies and consultancies, including EY and Accenture. 50,000feet develops integrated experiences for many highly respected brands, including BMW, Harley-Davidson, Knoll and Sony.

Paul Rand famously captured the paradox: “Design is so simple, that’s why it’s so complicated.” While design can difficult to describe — let alone define—it has come to mean so much.

Simply put, design draws connections between seemingly unrelated things in order to solve a problem. Whether manifest through a painterly composition or seen in the underlying vision of a complex urban plan, good design wrests order from disorder. Great design does this in a way that appears effortless, bringing efficiency through its elegance and ease of use through its interface.

Today, design firms of all shapes and sizes are solving complex problems for global organizations by employing a range of approaches — whether systematic, customer-centric, culturally aware, omnichannel, experiential or, ideally, some combination thereof.

To be effective, designers need to nurture a strategy that works best for their clients and their audiences; and, design firms need to foster the kinds of culture that will support the many needs and aspirations of their teams. The title designer includes more competencies and capabilities than ever before, naming experts in CX, UX, storytelling, industrial design, software engineering and data science — among many more domains.

In the spirit of adding to the conversation, here are three simple ideas that we have found help create a design culture that really works.

• Feed Curiosity

Most designers were drawn to their profession by an innate desire to learn about the world and how it works. Encouraging this instinct and aptitude is a defining characteristic of most of the greatest designers and design firms and is critical to keeping a design culture energized and productive.

To promote innovation and creativity, make space for sharing perspectives and celebrating ideas. In this vein, The Wing was created as a new women’s social club in New York that offers a multi-purpose home base where “women can work and connect while they take on the world.” Similarly, the workspace at A/D/O offers a creative environment that provides an “essential array of resources to working designers.” Both places were built to spark dialogue that leads to creative solutions. Access to the right resources as well as inspirational, wide-ranging perspectives sets thinking and doing into perpetual motion.

With a platform for teams to offer up what they think and how they feel, your company’s ability to take on and solve tough problems will continually improve. When you work on the edge of what you’re really great at, you can go where you want to grow.

• Keep It Simple

While this advice may seem counterintuitive for leading a curious tribe who deals in complexity, it is critical to streamline and prioritize to drive momentum.

Because we live in a world that competes for our attention, try to create an environment that helps teams remain focused, energetic and inspired. Under the leadership of Jack Dorsey, you can see how this approach has worked wonders at Twitter and Square, both of which have helped to transform their respective categories through a commitment to design-driven innovation. Perhaps Dorsey’s genius is finding simplicity amid complexity while creating experiences where inspiration fits perfectly alongside precision. In his own words: “Make every detail perfect and limit the number of details to perfect.”

Find opportunities to simplify the workday and maximize the time that teams have to work—whether in laser-focused solitude or collaborating in groups. Don’t move the cheese, and bring inconsequential meetings to zero.

• Put People At The Center

Design-driven companies go beyond understanding what customers want to uncover why they want it. Observe, listen and learn how people actually use and experience products. Plot customer decision journeys to understand exactly what motivates people, what bothers them and where there are opportunities for creating delightful experiences.

When you have an organizing principle that speaks to your team’s ability to work together toward a common goal, the synergy created can pay dividends. In Salesforce’s case, the founder sought a way to convey a sense of family: Ohana. It’s the term they’ve adopted as a deep-seated support system that they continually nurture inside the company. It works for team members but also extends to partners, customers and members of the communities that they serve, acting as a reminder to take care of each other and have fun in the process.

Now To Next

Design has grown to encompass more disciplines and industries, which means making sense of what it is to be a design company has become more challenging — and more exciting. As design challenges surpass the capabilities of any single individual, learning to build great teams and empowering them in ways that matter can lead to great success. Whether you’re focused on predicting the future or perfecting it, design has the unique ability to focus our minds while also setting them free.