Software Practitioners Shouldn’t Overlook the Design Mgmt. Institute

Are you professionally involved with software at some level — business, programming, high-level design, tangible design, marketing, workplace planning, testing, or something else? Are you aware of the Design Management Intitute (DMI)? No? Go check it out immediately!

In late 2012 I started reading papers in DMI’s annual Academic Design Management Journal and have truly enjoyed what I’ve read so far. The papers are fairly dense — they read much like the academic journal papers I was reading as a graduate student — but are also rich in depth.

Notable Recent Papers

Here is an overview of some of the papers I’ve read in the last two journals.

Gaps in organizational leadership: linking strategic and operational activities through design-led propositions

by Bucolo, Wrigley, and Matthews

As someone without the same education or experience as a student of business, I enjoyed the discussion about the continuum between the strategic and operational responsibilities of an organization. The authors make a recommendation, based on design and storytelling, to help overcome the tension between these two poles of the organization.

Coping with uncertainties: the little secret of design leaders

by Rajabalinejad and Spitas

This research took a quantitative approach to measuring the levels of uncertainty in a design project. I like the extraordinarily accessible visual tool the authors used to measure uncertainty:

Rajabalinejad and Spitas's visual tool

When asked a question, users indicate their level of satisfaction or dissatisfaction. They are free to mark the box however they please (lines, dots, more lines for more certainty, less lines for less certainty, etc.) 1

Understanding the skills of design leaders

by Miller and Moultrie

Miller and Moultrie investigate the specific skills of fashion design leaders. What are the skills? How many are there? How important is each skill, and how are the skills interrelated? The authors conclude with a fairly provocative statement:

Finally this leads us to challenge the current vogue of design thinking, because this study reveals that design leaders are commercially adept design doers. 2

What is “good design”?: an investigation of the complexity and structure of design

by Hertenstein, Platt, and Veryzer

This paper has been my favorite so far, and it’s because I cannot imagine there are many more difficult questions to answer than “What is good design?” Thankfully, the authors reveal some truly fascinating answers to this question. We learn in this paper that there are least 24 aspects to good design, and that none of them completely dominate the others. Good design is both broad and deep, both functional and aesthetic.

Aspects of good design fall into three tiers
Aesthetics and function are the two most important aspects of good design, but still only account for 25% of it. 75% lies in other aspects. 3

Something for Everyone

Though DMI is nominally targeted at designers (which is a poorly defined term to begin with), I strongly believe that practitioners across a range of disciplines can learn from DMI’s content. For example, shouldn’t those responsible for the workplace understand what helps a design team work most effectively? I certainly don’t have a traditional design background, but what I’ve learned from the DMI journal has empowered me to speak knowledgeably with those who do.

Anecdotally, most software designers I’ve spoken with have been completely unfamiliar with DMI, and based on what I’ve seen so far, there is a lot the software community can learn from DMI. Let’s keep spreading the word so that this great organization is not overlooked.

I hope you enjoy the Design Management Institute’s content as much as I have!


1. Rajabalinejad, M. and Spitas, C. (2012), Coping with uncertainties: the little secret of design leaders. Design Management Journal, 7: 50–61. doi: 10.1111/j.1948-7177.2012.00032.x

2. Miller, K. and Moultrie, J. (2013), Understanding the skills of design leaders. Design Management Journal, 8: 48. doi: 10.1111/dmj.12002

3. Hertenstein, J. H., Platt, M. B. and Veryzer, R. W. (2013), What is “good design”?: an investigation of the complexity and structure of design. Design Management Journal, 8: 8–21. doi: 10.1111/dmj.12000