You can analyze the past, but you have to design for the future

*Edward de Bono. I like the idea, and think it is very true. That was my problem w forecasts & trends and all those “i-see-the-future” kind of things. Same with “it’s about the dialog with consumers” type of wisdom. Maybe someone will figure out at some point that the path towards better understanding of digital marketing lies elsewhere. If people don’t get it now, this can maybe mean that the challenge is not the one of communication as they know it. The framework may not be media & messages but design. In marketing, design is mainly treated as “now, let’s make it pretty” add-on at the end of the campaign development process. After all, it is assumed that people’s perceptions of a brand image are determined by aesthetic appeal of marketing communication (right??).

While aesthetic component of design is important, the core of designing is making things appealing to use. Or, in the words of Steve Jobs: “Design is not what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works”. Similarly, famous designer Phillipe Stark recently proclaimed that, “In the future, there will be no more designers. The designers of the future will be the personal coach, the gym trainer, the diet consultant.” The thing that he meant (free translation) is that those people DO something for you, they TRANSFORM our habits (and our bodies), and create a CHANGE. Bottom line: design is about doing something, instead of making something pretty or funny or whatever the ads should be.

Sure thing, design can be regarded as process or as the outcome of the process. But that depends on what you are designing (objects? images? habits?). Charles Eames says that “design is a plan for arranging elements in such a way as to best accomplish a particular purpose.” In the broadest sense, design can be regarded as a methodology of problem solving (i really like this one). It is a way of thinking that is human-centered, integrative, and collaborative, and that seeks to “transform existing conditions into preferred ones” (Simon, 1969, p. 55). Design is viewed here as a process, rather than an end result or a value-add.

So, to design = create a system of habits. The meaning of design in digital marketing then shifts from images to creating relationships & their structures. Some have already figured that out. Steve Jobs (yea, the guys just must be everywhere) says that “in most people’s vocabularies, design means veneer. It’s interior decorating. It’s the fabric of the curtains or of the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a human-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.” Designing is planning and shaping of interfaces and networks of habits & products. These habits/activities are ALWAYS REFERENTIAL (no, you can’t promote your product without any context. no one would care), and they regularly tend to assimilate and arrange existing relations into new configurations (there’s when you win). Designing = a process that transforms systems, relations, actions, and experiences.

This post originally appeared on I [Love] Marketing on January 6, 2009