Design Management

What works in Design consulting

What works in Design consulting? 

Ashish Deshpande takes a pause, to reflect upon the journey of 26 years at Elephant and describes the 3 parameters that keep Elephant to remain relevant & a value creator across years, for itself and its clients in Design Consulting.

Elephant over the past 26 years succeeded in establishing Design Consulting into an important element of business growth in India. It was not as though design practice did not exist in India before, but Elephant can be credited to put across one of the most professional & scaled up practices to emerge. The practice has over years inspired design entrepreneurship amongst a generation of designers. What is it that worked? Was it the brand play at work, polished over years, was it the caliber of people who tirelessly over years lent their effort & wisdom to the pachyderm of design or was it age, was it a moment of opportunity or pure destiny?

If I have to isolate one value that has been the hallmark of Elephant, it has been the quality of delivery. Our quality benchmark has remained consistent across projects, domains, years and clients. We consistently delivered quality projects as per customer expectations. This ability to consistency deliver projects has endeared us to clients as trusted design & innovation partners in their growth.

There are three key parameters that we use at Elephant to manage the consistent quality delivery of projects.

#1 Understand Empathise

#2 Craft = Life

#3 Time = Great Value

#1 Understand is to Empathise

Most designers, by the very nature of their talent tend to be self-focused when it comes to delivery of design concepts, solutions or ideas. Designers rely strongly on their intuitive ability, many a times loose sense of client objectives and even comfort. A professional practice needs to understand its stakeholders. They are one way or the other, users of design.    

Understanding comes through keen listening of what people have to say, summary of what that has been heard and then sharing for response.

During a boardroom presentation of concept for a medical analyzer, a junior service engineer made a remark that the service opening needs to happen from the top. Since, placing screw heads on the top was definitely an ugly proposition it was quickly shot down by the design team. Later one day, when the concept turned into prototype and it came up for testing. The Jr. Service Engineer promptly upturned the device to access the screws at the bottom. The top surface of the prototype was badly scratched by the time he finished test of the assembly. We had learnt an important lesson that day. The product was modified but we should have listened on day one.

People are always saying, giving clues, feedback and a design team must go beyond passive listening to critical & empathy based listening, write down the learning’s and share it back with the stakeholders.

Key here lies in empathizing in someone else’s shoes. Design action on these learning’s play a “flippant” role in creating relevant & acceptable solutions.   

#2 Craft is your Life

Delivery requires knowledge of a craft and skills need to be honed all the time. More important is the effort, designers or design teams put in a project, day after day. Design is about extreme sensitivity to small details. The continuity of a surface, the spacing between letterforms, fineness of the texture or be it the specific tone of a colour. There is nothing short of perfect. Perfectness is that very moment wherein a sensorial assembly gives you the goose bumps.

Robert Staples, Staples & Charles, while working on one of Eames projects narrated the meticulousness that went behind one of the Aluminum office chairs. He hand formed and filed the handle master, a good seven times, before the handle form got accepted.

As designers and professionals delivering the new, striving for excellence has to be integral to our soul. The quality of our craft has to be the essence of our life.

#3 Time is of Great Value

When clients commission projects, they believe that you are completely committed 8hrs a day for the period of the project. When projects are commissioned on the basis of time bound value, firms & professionals are expected to devote to thinking 24 x 7 period of the project. Yes, clients want you thinking about their concerns all through the period of engagement.

Professionals in design need to manage time, utilize the timeline in the most productive manner.

There are 86400 seconds in a day. As a professional in practice, it is important to understand how we distribute the time and what is the level of output that we generate in this period. This is true at individual level and also with teams.

Ask a student the value of time for the 1 year she missed, or value of 1 month to a mother who delivered premature or 1 week to the editor of a weekly or a commuter who missed his train by 1 min or a pilot who averted a disaster by a second.

At Elephant, much of our praise from clients is for meeting time targets. Breaking down tasks, aligning timelines, checkpoints, clarity in responsibilities during team activities is critical for reaching timeline milestones. However, these are basic principles of time management. How do they differ for a design consulting business? Design, as we know is an iterative activity. Any timeline can be described at best as approximation. Design managers need to be sensitive to nature of the project and extent of iterations than may come into play. Design as processes gains from failures and failure mode needs to be built into the design timeline.

UCT is the basic philosophy of design practice at Elephant and something that has withstood the passage of time. It is simple three point rule that will ensure that your talent is always supported by great service and business sense.

ASHISH DESHPANDE is an Industrial Designer, Co-founder & Director at Elephant. An alumnus of National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, he is a keen Design Thinker, a member of India Design Council & Jury for India Design Mark.

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