Musings on designing experiences & (re)engineering complexity

Feb 2022

Design’s Dialects

Across a few previous projects, one shape of deliverable was a data dictionary, or some type of subject-genre lexicon. The prevailing thought for this: a set of orders for the collective members of the team to understand the work to be done, and then translate into a comment language for outcomes (those created and those external). Sensemaking methods were used to establish common terms.

In one project, this lexicon became a sprawling mess of pages, terms, external references, and eventually a consolidated playbook. However, we found a more successful route through a condensed outline. Carefully curated, and given a single point of collaborative contact (all collaborators used the same platform, not multiple); this lexicon enabled sales, designers, developers, and even newly formed stakeholders to understand the width and the depth of the design movement that was to transform their organization.

At the same time, creating this lexicon was a challenge to some of the other areas of the organization who already had a common vocabulary. For example, business development may speak about aspects of design in terms that are no longer used by current design professionals, or have alternate meanings because of their application to financial concepts. In other cases, there may be a dispute about the meaning or context of a word or phrase because of how it has been used within the experience of the design/research professional. In this case, consulting accountant specialist, along with a hearty discussion between all of the participants, usually leads to simpler, more addressable terminologies.

Design feels it should be an inclusive. Conceptually, it is really an analogy for the things others want to get done. Design has to transform itself into what’s most important for others. When others need to make decisions, design transforms itself into applicable research. When others need to build, design transforms itself into sustainable components, reusable contents, and layers of collaboration which reduce friction, instead of increase it. And then when it is heard, the dialect of design should warn, invite, constrain, or grow the thing to which is amplifying.

Compared to 10 or even 20 years ago, the language of design has found many voices, mini types of voices. Not all of those voices will be heard in the same way. However, if design is going to be the descriptor amplifying what others do, then its dialect not only needs to be spoken clearly, but applicable to understanding.