Design is not a democracy

This morning I read Small Change by Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker. Besides his remarks about the impact of social networks there is another interesting passage in his article.

There are many things, though, that networks don’t do well. Car companies sensibly use a network to organize their hundreds of suppliers, but not to design their cars. No one believes that the articulation of a coherent design philosophy is best handled by a sprawling, leaderless organizational system. Because networks don’t have a centralized leadership structure and clear lines of authority, they have real difficulty reaching consensus and setting goals. They can’t think strategically; they are chronically prone to conflict and error. How do you make difficult choices about tactics or strategy or philosophical direction when everyone has an equal say?

Image from Sketching User Experiences by Bill BuxtonFor a while this topic has been fascinating me. Why design needs direction, someone with a vision or clear ideas? Why do most open source projects fail to get this right? And why do you often need a designer or someone who thinks like one for innovation?

Building a house from a design could very well work like an open source project. Designing a house as an open source project would probably be a disaster, it would end up over complete and hard to stand out. Networks are good in converging, designers are good in diverging.

The networked and peer-culture that founded Google is likely why they are incredibly successful in finding things (“to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful“) This might also explain why they fail in building social networks (Orkut, Jaiku, Wave, Buzz).

This is what makes Facebook and Twitter succeed, those are fare more hierarchical organizations where there is a clear vision set by one or a small group of people.

Design is what makes you stand out. Good design is about making choices. Even in a networked culture.

The image in this post is a picture I took from the book Sketching User Experiences by Bill Buxton.

Share this post
Tweet about this on Twitter0Share on Facebook0Share on Google+0Share on LinkedIn0Email this to someone

3 thoughts on “Design is not a democracy

  1. I don’t think that a project is open source means it has no central vision / leadership.

    And that you have central vision / leadership doesn’t mean you can’t be transparent / open / welcoming in your design process.

    Just a thought.

  2. I agree, open source does have a vision, often this vision is being open, or remake something closed open. Groups aren’t really good at making decisions, because the model of a hierarchy demotivates group members.

    What if your ideas don’t make it? Would you still keep volunteering? This makes the group much more dependent on each other, instead of a hierarchy like in a company.

    I strongly believe in open source, it’s like evolution, all nodes are experimenting. This is a good thing, but its also quite hard to kill functionality in favor of usability.

    In case of user experience often less is actually more.

Comments are closed.