One of the hallmarks of good design is that whatever the product, from the latest app on your smartphone to the household tools you take out on the weekend, it's easy to use. Good designers keep their end-user front of mind when turning an idea into reality.
We know this principle as empathy. And it should be central to your leadership style.
Bob Adams, an organizational consultant for churches (yeah, they have those), considers how leaders should think like designers on his 27Gen blog:
...design must start with establishing a deep understanding of those we are designing for. Leaders who thought like designers would put themselves in the shoes of their team or client. More than just “customer-centered” (that’s internal and external customers), the idea here is to know the “customer” as real people with real problems, not seeing them as statistics or targets or a cog in the machine. It involves understanding both their emotional and “rational” needs and wants. Great designs inspire--they grab us at an emotional level. Yet we often don’t even attempt to engage our customer or team at an emotional level--let alone inspire them.
If that's a bit too much high-minded and conceptual consultant-speak for your liking, it's worth noting that one of the business world's premiere designers--Facebook director of product design Maria Giudice--treaded on similar themes in a recent interview with Fortune. Advocating for a designer's approach to leadership, she says:
So designers like to make that complexity simple. Through pattern recognition, they can take complexity and learn to simplify it. So, systems thinkers need to be at the CEO level. You're going to need somebody who can think that way.
Another [superpower] is being a risk taker, but a smart risk taker. Traditionally CEOs are slaves to the P&L. It's hard to move forward. But the world is not waiting for you. You have to move fast and the only way you can do that is by understanding how to take risks in a smart way.
Giudice goes on to say that the principles of design could be better integrated in the U.S. education system at large. The "soft skills" associated with designers, she says, are "beaten out" of students by the fourth grade.
Empathy also drove Yahoo CEO and userexperience aficionado Marissa Mayer's rise to corporate power. In his 21,000-word profile of Mayer, Business Insider's Nicholas Carlson explains that she made a point to not install wireless Internet in her home until the majority of Americans had done so. Carson writes that she also used an iPhone while working at Google, which makes Android phones, because that's what most smartphone users carried. "She would re-create the technological circumstances of her users in her own life," Carlson reports.