Getting the IT Shop Ready for ‘Design as a Discipline
Updated: Aug 7
IT organizations can lay the technological foundation for design as a discipline even as they keep current applications and systems humming along.
Design as a discipline can knock down the traditional, compartmentalized boundaries of design thinking. When applied in the IT domain, this means taking an iterative, experimental, and experiential approach across the technology lifecycle—from planning the overall portfolio and gathering requirements to planning releases, monitoring results, and making improvements.
To apply design as a discipline, IT specialists can build on user engagement and user empowerment principles, extending the persona-based approach to underlying data, application, and infrastructure services. For example, instead of having a separate team working to enable ERP for mobile, usability and user experience design skills are embedded across the entire ERP project, informing not only mobile use cases, but also more conventional topics like business process templates, business intelligence visualization, and interface specifications.
Although art meets science at the heart of design as a discipline, there is still plenty of science involved—in the underlying technology layer assisting solution development, and in the deliberate approach to infusing creativity into the system. Design as a discipline incorporates these elements:
Digital backbone. An enterprisewide digital backbone of reusable services and solutions can accelerate the adoption of design as a discipline and help clarify the extent to which foundational technologies are already integrated. These building blocks for design as a discipline include content and rights management; mobile, social, web, and e-commerce solutions; customer analytics; and identity, credentials, and access management. Advanced capabilities relating to sales and marketing are also critical, including customer relationship management, sales force automation, campaign management, and search management.
Integration/orchestration. Being able to bring together data and transactional services for end users is a universal need. A detailed integration layer is critical for managing trade-offs between reliability, speed, and performance at the interface of data and systems.
User experience (UX). UX is an indispensable ingredient of design as a discipline. Beyond aesthetics or screen layout, it involves conducting field research; creating detailed user personas and stories; developing service diagrams; designing information architecture for the actors, tasks, and broader context; and the conceptual design of the end-user experience. The ideal UX designer will combine creativity with the curiosity of an anthropologist, and have expertise in specific solution channels (for example, mobile, web, social, or digital ERP).
Agile development. Close collaboration among multidisciplinary teams has been a defining feature of industrial design, allowing for the standardization of leading practices. IT departments spearheading design as a discipline should follow this approach by bringing together business and domain specialists with representatives of creative, UX, engineering, and QA teams through each phase of the project. To build momentum and achieve results, leaders can set discrete and incremental project goals, with each iteration resulting in a potentially releasable end product. The design will likely evolve as the team builds incremental features, responding not just to technical specifications, but also to the actual usability, utility, and experience of the end product. Many organizations claim to have dabbled with these “agile” development techniques, but few ever move beyond an iterative waterfall approach. Organizations successfully adopt agile by shedding biases, developing new delivery models, and building new tools for handling requirements, release and configuration management, and testing.
Prototyping. Moving quickly from concept to prototype is a core tenet of design as a discipline. Just as industrial designers now use three-dimensional printers to vet potential product concepts, IT departments need the ability to create interactive models of potential solutions. HTML5-based frameworks, native mobile development tools, and third-party tools provide viable approaches. A company should select platforms that align with its overarching digital strategy.