The leading question
What can managers learn from designers?
- Managers and designers have to do the same things: Embrace restraints, take risks, question everything and make sure that tools don’t get in the way of ideas.
- Design concepts such as hierarchy, balance, contrast, clear space and harmony are just as relevant to managers.
Few people are more dedicated to making sure your presentations are clear and persuasive than Nancy Duarte and Garr Reynolds. Duarte, as CEO of Duarte Design Inc., has helped shape some of the best-known recent presentations, among them Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth talk. Reynolds, an associate professor of management at Kansai Gaidai University in Japan, is the author of a popular and influential blog on presentation design and used to work at Apple Inc. MIT Sloan Management Review met Duarte and Reynolds at the most recent TED conference, where we started a conversation not about how to make better presentations — Duarte’s slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations (O’Reilly) and Reynolds’s Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery (New Riders) do that expertly — but rather about how managers without any design responsibilities can do a better job if they understand how designers think.
What can managers learn from designers about how to attack a problem?
Reynolds: Solving problems is what designers do. They solve problems or otherwise take the current situation and try to make it a better one. There are four ways managers can learn from designers:
- Embrace restraints. Designers are all about working with restraints (time, budget, location, materials). Identify your limitations and then create not the perfect solution, but the best solution given the restraints. If you can do it with less, why add more?
- Take a risk. Change does not happen without taking some chances. Designers are comfortable with the notion that they might be wrong, but still they experiment and try new approaches.
- Question everything. Answers are important, of course, but first come the questions. Designers are used to asking myriad questions that may lead to the right question — which will lead to the right answer.
- It’s not about tools, it’s about ideas. Designers from various fields spend a lot of time away from new technology tools, using pencil and paper to sketch out their ideas.
Duarte: The primary principles of design are eminently transferable to management.