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Thinking on change

Change is the root of designing - but how can designers approach the resistance to change that follows new solutions to complex challenges?

In the words of Herbert Simon “To design is to devise courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones.” In other words – the products, concepts, services or processes we design is about making change whether it is for users, customers or stakeholders.  But change is difficult and not something that comes easily when alot of people are involved.

All design projects affects people whether it is intended or not. Think of the department who needs to change their daily routine; the customer who needs to change the way they interact or the partner who needs to change their strategy. Some things will always change when implementing a new design* and if you can address this change in an intelligent way, you will secure a more sustainable implementation, and moreover make projects that flourish after you leave the scene.

I have designed different concepts from showrooms to business concepts and brands. In the process of creating something new with a client or within a business it is my experience that you can get a long way with focusing on what can help you in the process of introducing and implementing a new concept.

Resistance to change

Change is by definition hard and people will resist it. This is because change impart that you move from somewhere familiar to somewhere unknown. Unknown = Scary. To clarify this, here is a list of 28 factors that causes resistance to change. However, there is a whole theoretical and practical field working with this very challenge called Change Management. A field that has been working with how to manage change and all the aspects of it.

For my master thesis in Design Management i dived into the world of change management through the work “Colours of Change” by Léon de Caluwé and Hans Vermaak. A short introduction to the work can be found here. Their approach to change is very broad and is based on a grouping of a lot of different change theories. I’m putting together a short cheat sheet for this book you can read here in the future.  There is a ton of interesting articles to read about change management**. Change Management is a field we, as design managers, can borrow a great deal from when dealing with complex and wicked problems.

This short article is a couple of insights I made from projects I have worked on in regards of how you as a design manager can managing change and secure a stronger implementation along the way. I hope you can use them.   


Not design as in furniture or objects, but in the broad sense of the word. For example creating  new customer experiences, creating a collaboration platform or innovation strategy. Some use the term strategic design in this regard, but it can be misleading in the sense that there is not a very good definition on what strategic design is confined to.   

Great inspiration to learning about change management

Find the motivations

Firstly; Complex projects with a lot of partners and stakeholders are a tricky business to maneuver in. If you can identifying the hidden and underlying goals within a project, you can get a head start by producing work that more people will agree with. What are the motivations behind the assignment or brief.

Find out why this projects is important and for whom. It can be different *whys” from person to person. Find out what motivates the people involved, why they are involved and how success looks like for the project owners and what they will achieve?  For instance some are moved by prestige and power; others by reaching goals early; others by personal opportunities and again others by learning. Being aware of this will give you the opportunities to draw connections from your work to relevant areas of motivation. 

Identifying agents of change

Secondly; In projects where a lot of people are involved, there are some people more enthusiastic about the project than others. These people are filled with motivation, energy and drive, which is an incredible powerful factor in successful projects. If you can empower these individuals, you have people soldiering for the project. That is to say, you get people who will continue to put a lot of effort in making the ideas and concepts stick, when you are not there. For instance they can create positive dialog with people not rooting for the change you create or take initiatives that fit the culture of the company better than you can as and outsider.

Change agents can be with or without decision power in a project, but will be people who thinks the projects is a great idea in the first place. Find out what drives this motivation and give these individuals the arguments, freedom, responsibility or tools (depending on what motivates them) to help them in leveraging your projects within and combating resistance to change.

Recap in physical objects

Thirdly and most important; Make work that will stay with the client when you are not there. This is not something derived from the field of change management but something I have great experience with. Instead of making presentations in powerpoints or sum up important insights and key factors in written rapports, create physical objects and posters have a big impact for the implementation. Objects that will continue to exist in the clients break room or meeting rooms after you finish the project or leave the workshop, will facilitate ownership within the organisation. It will help you gather new ideas, insights and feedback from the client through the project. Your clients will have something to show their partners or customers reassuring strong ownership (In addition, creating new business opportunities for you). In this way the project you are creating, eksist 24/7 as the clients project, making it an addressable burning platform in the organisation. Subsequently this also means that you have to think about the aesthetics – what would you like to hang on your walls? (but as a designer this shouldn’t be a problem). One of the easiest ways you can do this is by always making a poster in addition to the final rapport.

So these are my insights into what can help facilitate the change that is needed. In my conclusion change management is a valued toolbox that can help designers managing the change they create. I find the concepts from the field very much applicable on design projects where there are a lot of different shareholders and stakeholders involved.  I’m sure there are many other great tools in the field

– I would love to hear your insights about how to deal with the change challenges in project.

Need inspiration? Lets meet!

Lets get a cup of coffee – you can share your goals, vision and challenges and I give you pointers and ideas how to take the next step.