Deming from a design perspective

This is an article I wrote for my blog. I was talking with a friend the other day and though of exploring Deming’s ideas applied to ID.

I post it here as it is a better place for sharing ideas.

It is possible to apply Deming’s 14 points to Industrial Design?

First a really quick introduction for those that are not familiar with Deming’s work. Dr. Willam Edward Deming was a North American satistician, college professor, author and consultant who was a great contributor to improve industrial production during WWII. But Deming is best known as the father as Japan’s post war industry revival. Deming’s philosophy was summarized in 14 points that have been an inspiration for important changes in many organizations throughout the world. He is also called the father of TQM (Total Quality Management), since most of the TQM theory came from his book “Out of the crisis” published in 1982.

Lets review the 14 points from a design perspective…

1.”Create constancy of purpose towards improvement”. Replace short-term reaction with long-term planning.

Industrial Design: This point is very relevant, since the focus of ID is not anymore on isolated products, but rather on product systems and user experiences. For these, designers are required to act at a more strategic level, working to create a coherent brand experience in the long term.

2.”Adopt the new philosophy”. The implication is that management should actually adopt his philosophy, rather than merely expect the workforce to do so.

Industrial Design: Well, this is true for any organization. If we consider the introduction of design in the business world, we could also see this from a bottom-up situation. It is the managers that have to catch up with design thinking, since it could be beneficial for the whole organization. We can see this is already changing with design programs aiming at non designers, there are several dual degree programs that offer an MBA+Master in Design that are very interesting. I should also point out that designers should also catch up with business and marketing training.

3.”Cease dependence on inspection”. Eliminate the need for mass inspection as the way of life to achieve quality by building quality into the product in the first place.

Industrial Design: Even dough this point is more relevant when speaking of mass production, it could also be applied to ID. Ideally any design studio should look to delegate responsibilities to the designers and aim to achieve a higher quality of service and design without the managers having to check the work on a continuous basis.

Designers should try to organize their workflow in such a way that would let them speed up and avoid common mistakes. Also re-read the briefings, talk to the clients, eliminate any doubts that can be very costly in terms of time, money and client relations. The fast paced environment we are living in, makes things difficult some times, continually pressing to get the most innovative solutions in the least possible time. I would say it’s better to take your time to do the job than having to throw everything to the garbage and start from scratch (if you have been there you know how frustrating it is and learn the lesson). Usually when working on a team, you will pass your work to someone else (that will usually not check it), who will continue the project on top of your stuff. A little mistake could become a huge issue.

4.”Move towards a single supplier for any one item”. Multiple suppliers mean variation between feedstocks.

Industrial Design: This is also very relevant to a mass production scenario. He means it in the way of reducing the number of suppliers by choosing only to work with the best. Even dough, moving to single suppliers could be good and bad. Sometimes it is nice for a specific project to work in parallel in order to bechmark and to get a wider diversity of ideas. In other cases, a long relation with the market and the client will prove better. Despite of the advantage of using the same suppliers (Designers), I would still recommend to benchmark and look out for fresh ideas from time to time.

5.”Improve constantly and forever”. Constantly strive to reduce variation.

Industrial Design: Reduce variation of your results, as a result of variations on external conditions. Embrace constant change and keep updated with latest trends, materials, technologies and any other relevant information. Good design is the result of many factors; keep sharp to provide the best possible service. Constantly review your tools and skills, get training and re training when necessary. Set new standards!

6.”Institute training on the job”. If people are inadequately trained, they will not all work the same way, and this will introduce variation.

Industrial Design: Even dough for small teams the ideal situation would be to have similar do it all profiles, it is very difficult to achieve. This kind of configuration is ideal in terms of flexibility, since anybody can take up on other’s work and collaborate at any instance of a project. It is nevertheless very hard to implement, since you are dealing with unique and creative people with very different motivations. There’s no use in teaching 3D to somebody that doesn’t like it. The person will just not be good at it. Ideal environment for the opposite situation are corporations, where you could organize separate teams of designers by function and provide training for further specialization.

7.”Institute leadership”. Deming makes a distinction between leadership and mere supervision. The latter is quota- and target-based.

Industrial Design: Today’s management role is to inspire, guide, coordinate, provide training and support for the teams. Changing the focus from a quantitative to a qualitative approach will improve productivity.

8.”Drive out fear”. Deming sees management by fear as counter- productive in the long term, because it prevents workers from acting in the organisation’s best interests.

Industrial Design: Individuals afraid to make mistakes are often paralyzed and don’t take any risks. Drive out fear by allowing people to make mistakes, this will give place for crazy ideas and spark innovation. Also encourage communication at all levels of the organization, if you are a manager, make yourself available for dialog.

9.”Break down barriers between departments”. Another idea central to TQM is the concept of the ‘internal customer’, that each department serves not the management, but the other departments that use its outputs.

Industrial Design: Work in collaboration with other business areas to get a better understanding. Learn about sales, marketing and engineering objectives. Instead of having separate engineering and design departments, and if possible, create a unified “Product X” department with engineers and designers working together. That will promote a new level of collaboration and avoid nonsense rivalries.

10.”Eliminate slogans”. Another central TQM idea is that it’s not people who make most mistakes - it’s the process they are working within. Harassing the workforce without improving the processes they use is counter-productive.

Industrial Design: Challenge everything! Allow the people to ask WHY. This could lead to a continuous improvement of the products and services. You will also be able to continually review the workflow to improve it.

11.”Eliminate management by objectives”. Deming saw production targets as encouraging the delivery of poor-quality goods.

Industrial Design: Eliminate quotas for management and designers. Again, search for quality, avoid setting goals for arbitrary quantity of concepts. I would rather see 3 excellent designs proposals than 11 crappy ones.

12.”Remove barriers to pride of workmanship”. Many of the other problems outlined reduce worker satisfaction.

Industrial Design: Nothing better than having a motivated team of designers. Try to eliminate all possible barriers that make designers feel frustrated. If posible, let them chose the projects they wish to work on. Another good option is to give some free time to develop personal projects that could be beneficial for the organization.

13.”Institute education and self-improvement”.

Industrial Design: Don’t focus on hiring people already trained for the job. Instead try to hire people with talent and and willingness to learn and improve. For existing employees try to provide motivation to build up and apply new skills and knowledge. As mentioned before, external conditions are constantly changing, so why not encourage people to keep up to date?

14.”The transformation is everyone’s job”.

Industrial Design: Try to push every day for the previous 13 points. Encourage people to participate and take action, they will be more willing to accept the change and feel proud of the results.

Do you have something to add or share from your personal experience?

Absolutely great. Thank you for sharing this.