Slush is one of the major global events for technology startups that brings together people from all over the world that share the same passion: entrepreneurship and innovation. This year, Slush attracted 14.000 attendees to Helsinki, including startups, investors, and media representatives. We wanted to find out what this event is all about and what, if any, role design plays in the tech startup scene. The event was attended by some high-ranked politicians as well, including Alexander Stubb, Prime Minister of Finland, and Wang Yang, Vice Premier of the People’s Republic of China. Both gave a speech to open the event, praising the entrepreneurial spirit of the event and highlighting the supportive infrastructure that exists in Finland, which enables young people to bring their ideas to life. The long list of prominent persons that were on stage during the two event days included Martin Lorentzo, co-founder of Spotify, Ilkka Paananen, co-founder and CEO of Supercell, and Hiroshi Mikitani, founder and CEO of Rakuten.
Besides those big stars on stage, the focus of the event was on the young startups that used Slush as a platform to pitch their ideas to media reps and investors. Most of them had a small booth where they stood and presented their company and innovative solution to people passing by. We took this chance and approached some of the startup representatives at their booth for an interview. Our main interest was of course if and how they consider design as part of their venture and what they think design management means. Most of the startups we spoke with are developers of digital platforms. Therefore they immediately recognize the importance of graphic design role for creating user friendly, engaging and usable platforms. However, great amount of the startups collaborate with external designers, which makes us think that design is not at the core in the decision making process but rather a “make up” of their already defined products. We asked them directly “What comes to your mind when you hear design management?” and got many different answers. In general, the words “design management” did not sound completely strange to our interviewees and most explanations were related to keeping design in mind when building products or solutions respectively, but they also had some difficulties to express more precisely what they thought it was.
Here are some of the answers our interviewees gave when asked about their understanding of design management:
“Some kind of holistic approach for all the touchpoints between the brand and its stakeholders.”
“Design management for me, especially in the software arena, is about remaining focused all the time on the user and user stories.”
“There has to be a person who takes care of and manages the design part of the whole and help the other team members to take this design into consideration in every part of decision-making.”
“Design management, that is interesting. This is the first time that I have actually heard that. Cool. I would imagine it is like people that help you to develop your graphical interface.”
During the event we also had the chance to talk to Kathryn Best, author of several books about design management, including ‘The Fundamentals of Design Management’ and ‘Design Management: Managing Design Strategy, Process and Implementation’. Even though she has been working in the field of design management for a long time and has written several books on the topic, she does not want to label herself nor the work she does solely under the term ‘Design Management’. She sees the need for Design Management to reinvent itself and adapt to current phenomenon outside the field, such as ecology of systems. In her view, it is crucial for design management scholars to be able to communicating to both, academia and practice. “The holy grail of design management is to acknowledge that fact that it must be applicable to industry.” It was a pleasure to meet Kathryn and we like to leave you with yet another thoughtful comment she made during our interview: “Good design management should be invisible. You should not notice the design management, you should just notice a brilliant result or something that has transformed the world in some way.”
By Andreas and Veronica