Design, made by designers, is communicated to design recipients, the public, the users, to markets. In order to get there, design has to be communicated to deciders, managers and organisations using and producing design. How the communication between designers and managers takes place will determine the manager´s faith in a particular design and the subsequent fate of the design itself, as it is usually business managers who finally decide which design is to be produced. Thus business managers are inevitably the agents through which design becomes reality for the greater public.
Designers shape the culture of consumption and most of the artificial world which surrounds us. While business managers are the agents for making design a reality for the production/consumption cycle, designers shape the culture of consumption, the tangible (as in products) as well as the intangible (as in brands) appearance of organisations. Design influences the public which has a choice of either accepting or rejecting a design. This reaction again influences managers and designers when a new design is planned.
Bruce and Cooper describe that “regular communication (of management) with design” is one of the key factors of project success, besides clear project objectives, comprehensive design briefs, top-level commitment, sourcing of appropriate design skills and integration of design with other corporate activities. Jevnaeker states that communicating design repeatedly contributes to the design learning capability in organisations. Peter Bilak points out that “design does not exist in a vacuum. Its position depends on the system of relationships between commissioner, public and designer.”
While the design or design proposal is itself a communicating medium, the interpersonal communication between designers and managers must get the idea across, must make the design understandable and complement the message of the design. The loss of information and knowledge which occurs through poor communication skills and a lack of organisational support is a loss in potential market value. Design success depends on several settings within the organisation, such as the knowledge of the designer about the organisation and vice versa, the knowledge of external factors (markets trends, market knowledge), and the designers competence, talent, intuition, artistry, and imagination. However, the way concepts and solutions are communicated to the deciding managers is of paramount importance for getting a design through in the first place. Communication is the bottleneck through which the designer can make of break his project.
It could be assumed that designers should care for the communication with managers, and that managers have a great deal of interest in the people which shape the visible image of their organisations as it is expressed in products and brands. This is however often not so. Communication is often difficult as there are profound gaps between these two camps. Peter Gorb and Angela Dumas remark that “the design and management relationship appears to be at unease, ambiguous and unclear”. Designers and managers have different worldviews, live in different paradigms, behave and dress differently, work and communicate differently, and have different social abilities.
Workman describes differences between engineering design and marketing, and David Walker describes a range of differences between managers and designers: Different outlooks, different aims, different education and different styles of thought. While there are a lot of differences between designers and managers, they have at least one important aspect in common: They deal with problem-solving. The difference is in the approach, which can be personal, reflected in a personality type, or culturally induced.
The classical divide between analytic and sensual-perceptual skills (visual literacy, object manipulation) and professions is a historical-cultural development rather than a skill divide which is inscribed in our genes: Humans are, by evolution, made to solve fuzzy-perceptual-manipulative tasks and not logical-abstract ones. The cultural division starts with education, where numeracy and literacy are supported as core subjects, while visual literacy and tactile skills are not valued. This gap runs through higher education and right into organisations.
The reason for this preference of abstract-analytical thinking can be found in European history. The Logos, the art of logical reasoning, lies at the heart of Greek philosophy. In the period of European enlightenment, thinkers like Locke, Kant, Voltaire and Montesquieu found the analytical mind to be the very force setting people free from the power of the church. Hans Moravec, chief scientist at the Robotics Laboratory in Carnegie Mellon University and specialist in Artificial Intelligence, explains that this division of analytical and sensual abilities in humans is actually a paradox when the history of human evolution is considered:
”Computers were invented recently to mechanize tedious manual informational procedures. Such procedures were themselves invented only during the last ten millennia, as agricultural civilizations outgrew village-scale social instincts. The instincts arose in our hominid ancestors during several million years of life in the wild, and were themselves built on perceptual and motor mechanisms that had evolved in a vertebrate lineage spanning hundreds of millions of years. Bookkeeping and its elaborations exploit ancestral faculties for manipulating objects and following instructions. We recognize written symbols in the way our ancestors identified berries and mushrooms, operate pencils like they wielded hunting sticks, and learn to multiply and integrate by parts as they acquired village procedures for cooking and tent-making. Paperwork uses evolved skills, but in an unnaturally narrow and unforgiving way. Where our ancestors worked in complex visual, tactile and social settings, alert to subtle opportunities or threats, a clerk manipulates a handful of simple symbols on a featureless field. And while a dropped berry is of little consequence to a gatherer, a missed digit can invalidate a whole calculation. The peripheral alertness by which our ancestors survived is a distraction to a clerk. Attention to the texture of the paper, the smell of the ink, the shape of the symbols, the feel of the chair, the noise down the hall, digestive rumblings, family worries and so on can derail a procedure. Clerking is hard work more because of the preponderance of human mentation it must suppress than the tiny bit it uses effectively.”
Analytical abilities are a fairly recent acquisition of humans, and we are not very good at them. Moravec came to his conclusion by researching that robots and computers are able to analyse massive amounts of data in short time, while it is extremely difficult to make them react to fuzzy tasks and to sense their environment.
The division of fuzzy-sensual and analytical-logic is a cultural construction. While these differences can easily become an overused stereotype, the personal experiences of people who worked with designers often support this statement. Miklós Biró and Tibor Remzsö point out that engineering designers and business managers have basically different motivations. In their opinion, it is of strategic importance to explain the differences in motivations to both sides. Also Abbie Griffin and John Hauser describe that there are significant differences in communication patterns in new-product development teams among marketing, engineering and manufacturing and suggest that firms are distinctively more successful at new-product development if there is more communication between marketing, engineering, and manufacturing. Communication can be difficult even between members of the same professional group. The linkages between task and employee as described in the linkage of product architecture to organizational architecture do often not match. Griffin and Hauser identified differences in the behaviour of engineering teams designing modular components to that of engineering teams designing distributed components and found that development professionals often do not communicate even when their product components interact. On the other hand, teams can interact while their components do not share a direct interface. Similar boundaries are existing for instance in medicine: Medical Doctor Stefan Schreiber explains that medical doctors today still work within boundaries which are 400 years old, from a time when doctors segmented the human body into its organs. Genetics show that there are various connections in diseases which reach across the boundaries of organs. For instance, inflammations in the mouth tend to indicate that there is an inclination to inflammations in the intestinal tract, but the boundaries of medicine make it difficult to effectively help a patient: Inflammations in the mouth are the concern of dentists, while for inflammations in the digestive tract a patient has to go to another specialist. Thus, in a full third of patients these parallel symptoms remain unrecognised. The problem of communication is the problem of crossing boundaries – between and within professions and cultures. Also the designer-manager communication, in order to be beneficial for an organisation, has to cross the boundaries of different worldviews, attitudes and motivations.