Busting the Design Idol Myth

Cobalt comments on the myth of celebrity designers, and how we think real innovation and success comes from a team approach.

From presidents to supermodels, famous sports stars to film idols, high flying CEOs to celebrity designers; today’s world is conditioned to believing that some individuals command almost superhuman abilities.

Personal bests

Breathtakingly individual brilliance exists in all professions, but it is very rare. Unambiguous examples of this include sportspeople who excel especially within non-team sports. No one can say athletes like tennis champion Roger Federer or sprinter Usain Bolt, do not deserve individual recognition. Although even in these cases, coaches, trainers and family should share some part of their remarkable success. Apart from sportspeople, actors, artists and writers are others who might be in a position to claim the lion’s share of their personal achievements.

Logic Vs Belief

For the rest of the time, and certainly in the case of business, most successful endeavours involve a group of people working together to attain an outstanding outcome. When thought about, we know that every successful CEO, restaurant owner or star football coach is at best, a very talented team leader of equally smart, motivated people working on well-defined goals, within well-structured organisations. This is logical.

Yet we continue to believe that the myth of the super-gifted individual is transferrable from the world of sport and creative expression to the commercial world. Is this because it is easier to relate to one person representing a large, complex organisation rather than the impersonal organisation itself? Or is it because it’s easier to sell simple celebrity over complex reality?

Design idols

The world of design is no different to other business sectors. In fact, its uncomfortable relationship with the creative arts proves too tempting for many designers. Do we really believe John Galliano, Philippe Starck or Calvin Klein personally design every dress, product or perfume that bears their name? Below the celebrity designer level, just look at how many designers, architects and creative groups name their firms after themselves. Ego and the god-complex are alive and well in design.

These practitioners and most commentators, including both trade and mainstream media, fan the myth that an individual designer ‘conceives’ a brilliant idea, and injects their ‘creative genes’ into their work. It’s an obvious analogy to make and it’s an easy myth to propagate, after all most of us want to believe the illusion.

Design: a group creativity

The truth about successful design is far more complex but no less compelling than the inspired designer myth. Good design is never created by just one person. Design is problem solving applied to real conditions, conducted by a well lead team of diverse people working toward the best product outcome.
At Cobalt we welcome (and insist on) broad input into the design process; from within our internal teams; from the various stakeholders within our clients’ organisation; and from expert suppliers who will eventually be involved in the design’s delivery.

Successful, well designed products are produced when a strong project team comes together. Each of the team members should champion their own distinct expertise and requirements. Examples of these areas include sales, marketing, production and servicing. Broader stakeholders represented within the project team may include distributors, retailers and even recyclers and the wider society.

Above all though, successful design puts the product user front and centre, not the designer. Design considers the user’s unspoken needs and expectations along with more tangible and functional requirements. There is no room for egos within this approach.

Experience shows that a client’s project leader has a central role in balancing these interests against commercial and timing constraints to achieve the best possible outcome. As the external design practitioner in these projects, Cobalt’s role is to fulfil the user’s needs as closely as possible whilst working with the whole team of specialists who are needed to produce a product.

Good design is not about exclusivity and individual or celebrity designers. Design is collaborative and inclusive; it’s about improving our experience of everyday objects. It’s about the rest of us.