Q&A with the author of ’Design Attitude’ Kamil Michlewski

From a background in management studies, Kamil Michlewski serendipitously came into contact with designers, which was both a shock and a revelation. We’ve asked the author of ‘Design Attitude’ why and how he believes designers can strengthen companies and organisations from the inside. You can meet Kamil at Design Dimensions 25 September.

Friday 25. September you can meet the author of Design Attitude (2015), scholar, adviser and author Kamil Michlewski, when we present the third edition of Design Dimensions: Searching for Design Attitude. We have asked Kamil to give us a few of his insights in advance, from his studies of design culture and of designers influence on companies and organisations.

Since Kamil comes from a management and not a design background, he brings a different perspective to the area of Design Thinking as well as an alternative view on the sources of success and competitive advantage of companies where design plays a leading role.

Why did you find it necessary and important to investigate deeper into the impact designers and design have in organisations?

I had completed five years of management studies at a technical university, when I serendipitously came into contact with designers at Northumbria University in the UK. It was both a shock and a revelation. It was 2001. Apple was in deep trouble and nobody had a clue what ‘design thinking’ was. It became apparent to me, relatively quickly, that I was looking at a group of people who had a very different way of looking at the world to my own at that time. 

“One of the most important advantages of having designers in house is creating a certain organisational sensitivity, which steers the business towards more human and user-centric decisions.”

So there I was, interacting with designers who are absolutely essential to the success of innovation at companies, yet their culture and mental models seemed like polar opposites of the things I’d learned in business school.

The cognitive dissonance of how management and innovation were sold to me and what I was seeing compelled me to investigate things further. I had a hunch that the traditional and somewhat mechanistic view of the ‘right’ managerial behaviour was soon going to be challenged.

What is the nature of designers’ contribution that is truly unique to them as professionals?

In my book, Design Attitude, I describe this in some detail, but let me give you one example. Designers are enculturated in a way that embraces all human senses to both understand the world around us and to come up with nifty solutions. Many professions, including traditionally trained management executives, are taught to focus on facts. This is interpreted as solely focusing on the information coming through our vision and our sense of hearing. As it’s often the case, many of us leave the other senses at the door of our offices. They become invisible, or worse still, illegitimate to furthering our managerial and business pursuits.

Designers on the other hand use the other senses to help them navigate the complexity of both creating a brief as well as coming up with innovative and viable solutions. One recent example, which demonstrates how this manifests itself, is a biodegradable food label. The winner of the James Dyson Award, designer Solveiga Pakstaite, came up with a food label that is based on gelatine. As the food ages the label deteriorates revealing tiny dimples. By simply touching the pack, we can quickly feel if the food is still safe to eat. Embracing all five senses in the professional setting is just one type of designers’ contribution that is quite unique to them.

Where is the biggest advantage that organisations gain from having designers in house? 

One of the most important advantages of having designers in house is creating a certain organisational sensitivity, which steers the business towards more human and user-centric decisions. If channelled correctly these cannot only be a source of profits, but also a deeper organisational meaning and a purpose.

“Designers have the ability to zero-in on the little inconveniences and hidden desires in people’s lives in a way that opens up opportunities for meaningful and valuable innovation.”

It is important to remember though, that this positive influence can only fully be realised when top-level supports to the design-inspired approach – that is a CEO in effect – is in place. A good example of a design-centric CEO is Indra Nooyi of Pepsi Co. Having a critical mass of designers is also crucial. A lone voice, even at the top, will not make a significant difference.

What do you think designers should emphasize when selling their skills and methods to an organisation?

Designers have the ability to zero-in on the little inconveniences and hidden desires in people’s lives in a way that opens up opportunities for meaningful and valuable innovation. They should take every opportunity to showcase and talk about their amazingly deep appreciation of consumers as people, as opposed to abstracted consumer groups. This gives them the edge over other professions with regards to original and actionable input into the innovation process.

Meet Kamil Michlewski at Design Dimensions

Kamil’s presentation will invite the audience as well as the panel to discuss how the professional design culture and attitude is best implemented in businesses and organisations. Panelists are Mads Kjøller Damkjær from PA Consulting Group and Jacob Koch Pedersen from Leo Pharma, who will contribute with insights from their everyday lives.

Design Dimensions is a series of seminars hosted in collaboration between Copenhagen Business School, Design Museum Denmark, Danish Design Centre and the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts School of Design. Design Dimensions: Searching for design attitude is the third seminar.

Read more and sign up.