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Open Frame Design Leadership

Updated: Sep 20, 2022

Ready for Which Context?

Hello again Humantific readers. Love seeing those spring tulips blossoming in New York City! The long Covid winter seems finally to be behind us. Woooo Hooo!

This week we have chosen a difficult spring subject that seems to be repercolating in the marketplace..:-) Design as leadership. The tricky, not so hypothetical question(s): Is the current state of Design / Design Thinking ready for prime time leadership in organizational change and societal change contexts? Is it ready to go today or does it need some tweaks, additions, subtractions, alterations? What is its nature, in its present form? Is it all there or is something missing?

Many of our readers will know that when we launched NextDesign Leadership initiative in 2002 we began conducting design community research around these questions. Since then we have published most of our findings, observations and suggestions including our recent book Rethinking Design Thinking, Making Sense of the Future that has Already Arrived.

Here today in this post, we are sharing observations and suggestions on this subject from a slightly different perspective. While Humantific works with organizational leaders across every industry, one stream of our work involves working with design groups within diverse global corporations. What they are often seeking our help with is Skill-Shift, making the jump from downstream and reactive to upstream and proactive, to be better able to engage around a diversity of challenges, contributing more strategic forms of leadership within their organizations.

Not sure why, but particularly within the “Experience / UX” communities we have seen the aha shift with several internal design groups coming to the conclusion that waiting downstream for UX briefs was probably not adding enough value to their organizations, especially in times of downsizing considerations. What they would prefer to be doing is being proactive and equipped to go out into their organizations to lead others in complex problem solving and cocreation, around diverse organizational challenges, not just UX related. As they see their organizations wrestling with VUCA these groups want to regroup in order to more effectively help with change and adaptation.

All of that was going on long before the Covid shifts arrived. Now interest in and need for adaptive capacity has been accelerated and significantly amplified.

Many people who contact us seeking information on workshops tell stories of being tasked as individuals or groups with the opportunity to lead in the context of complex organizational change situations, recognizing they presently lack the skills synchronized to the challenge types they now face. Those can be difficult conversations and we are happy to have them. Over the past decade, we have learned a lot from that stream of work.

Often what we are doing with organizational clients is confidential however in this post we are sharing a Design Leadership Transition Framework that we use in conversations working with internal designerly groups seeking to make the transition from product/service/experience creation leadership towards what we refer in our most recent book and here in this post as OpenFrame Design Leadership. As a starting point we recognize that one is not the other.


Shift #1: Recognize that for most global organizations, the phenomenon of VUCA (now inclusive of Covid storms) represents an ever-evolving constellation of challenges that extend far beyond product, service, experience creation. OpenFrame Design Leaders operate on the flip side of this realization, acknowledging challenge diversity and an increase in challenge complexity.

Shift #2: Recognize that evolving from product, service, experience creation leadership to organizational change leadership and culture building leadership requires a different mindset, skillset and toolset from that of traditional design and or conventional design thinking.

Shift #3: “Houston we have a [methods] problem.” Recognize the rising complexity of organizational and societal challenges probably necessitates a rethinking of your traditional design methods, not design philosophy, but methodology for this particular context. Your current method and methods mastery might or might not map to this more fuzzy, more complex context. OpenFrame Design Leaders work to close the now existing gap between methods and complex challenge types. Undertaking redesign of methods for this purpose is not the typical everyday terrain of traditional design or conventional design thinking.

See the entire post containing 12 Shifts here on LinkedIn.


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