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12 Examples of a Design Culture

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A design culture is a set of expectations, norms, habits, principles and philosophies that influence the work of a design organization or team. As with all culture, a design culture can't be dictated from above but emerges with the shared experiences of the people involved. The following are illustrative examples of a design culture.

Creativity

A willingness to pitch brave ideas that might get shot down versus a culture where everyone is conservative out of fear of saying something that could be criticized.

Research

The degree to which a design team is grounded in reality such that they explore data, use their own products and get out to meet end users.

Storytelling

Employees are always telling stories about a firm. In some teams, these are bitter personal complaints that are as uninspired as they are uninteresting. Other teams tell stories of struggle with a sense of team pride whether the end result was a failure or a triumph.

Leadership

The leadership style of the team or organization. For example, a command-and-control style organization with everything requiring the approval of a creative director. Alternatively, a design firm may have a laissez-faire style of leadership whereby designers do what they want as long as they keep their clients happy.

Reward & Recognition

A culture where managers reward their friends versus a culture where hard work and results are eventually rewarded. Some design teams go a bit far with recognition such that employees are constantly being recognized despite mediocre performance. As with any celebration of mediocrity, this can serve to set low expectations.

Organization

How work is orchestrated. Some teams are self-organizing such that people can be trusted to follow up on commitments. Other teams require an coordinator or project manager to track everything closely.

Productivity

Expectations for work throughput and time management habits. Some teams take long lunches and schedule questionable meetings. Others are always in a rush such that lunch is skipped and meetings are a few minutes long.

Comradeship

A team with a common sense of purpose and mutual respect such that work feels socially fulfilling.

Clients & Stakeholders

A team that has a good working relationship with clients and other stakeholders built on a foundation of respect for the customer. Alternatively, a team may be in the habit of complaining about clients or treating them poorly.

Design Philosophy

A fundamental approach to design that is shared by a team. For example, a team of ardent minimalists or a team that rejects minimalism in favor of complexity or ornamentation.

Refinement

The degree to which work is refined and perfected versus a culture of always doing the minimum required.

Weak Culture

A weak culture is a normless design team whereby everyone is an individual with few shared habits or principles. This can occur when everyone is a consultant or when a team has high turnover such that members don't necessarily identify with the team. It is also far more likely to occur for remote teams such as teams that regularly work from home.
Overview: Design Culture
Type
Definition
The expectations, norms, habits, principles and philosophies that influence the work of a design organization or team.
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