How designers bring value in a specialised field

Why hire a designer who is a novice in my industry?

Most companies have employees who are far more experienced and who understand the issues the company is facing more intimately, so they naturally would be able to do a much better job at solving the problems the company is facing. Yet Jieyu shares the crux of why designers are paid to consult on complex issues that companies face and how they bring value to a field they may be novices in.


  • It seems counterintuitive for clients, who are experts in their fields, to hire designers and design researchers who have no knowledge of their specialised industry, but here are two reasons why it isn’t
  • First, designers bring their own decades of experience to the table, and many clients pay for that difference in perspective and experience to add value to their project
  • This variety of life experience is multiplied when working with teams of designers, to bring richness to the project
  • Second, it’s about designers’ expertise in a completely different process that can generate a consistent level of outcome that can bring a newness to the clients’ industry

Full Transcript

That’s what you’re actually paying for, even though you’re not an expert in that area.

So actually when, you know, as design researchers, we go into this sort of new territory that we’ve never really explored before, and when we are working with clients, it’s expected that the client would have more knowledge and deeper understanding in that field simply because they’ve been in it. With us coming in with less knowledge, how do we generate insights that the clients don’t already know, given their expertise and experience in the field? Yeah, it sounds a bit like it can be difficult because we don’t know anything, and then going in and trying to [say], “Okay, we found some new stuff.” How do we actually come up with new stuff that they don’t already know?

I’ve been grappling with that problem ever since we started doing design research as far as like, why would someone pay you, which you are essentially a non-expert in their subject matter? They have spent maybe 30 years in their field, and they’re paying an outsider or so-called third party to come in and tell you what to do, which sounds really ironic, right? And I think it goes down to two things in the end.

The number one thing is actually that you can’t live multiple lives in your own lifetime. So as the client, they have spent 20-30 years, half their career or full career, diving into, let’s say, medical industry, medical zone, and it’s very specialised even right? While these other guys have spent their 10 years or 20 years, working on different projects, different experiences. They basically bring to the table, another 10 to 20 years of varied experience, and I think that’s something worthwhile, although you’re not an expert in their industry.

Because of your own unique experiences, you can bring something different to the table. And I think that’s what they’re paying for—the difference.

And most likely they have tackled the problem or worked on the problem… So there’s only two reasons why the client engages you. Number one is that they’ve got no time. They’ve got expertise but they’ve got no time. Okay, then I think that’s on the vendor basis.

The other one is, they’ve got a problem that they’ve tried solving for many years, and they realised they needed another perspective. So that’s where your other life comes into play, and that’s the value of a team as well.

If you have a team of five versus a team of two, you get five times life experiences than two times. And you bring that all to the table. So you then share your experiences working, let’s say it’s a medical project in the medical industry, you share experiences doing consumer electronics, doing service, doing all sorts of other projects on hospitality to bring into the medical setting. And that’s where the richness happens. So number one is life experiences—you can never replicate that, you only have one life to live. So it’s good to be able to multiply that through a different perspective. That’s why I read books also.

The second part about this is process. So it’s always about trusting in the process.

So the particular research team or design team that you engage has spent their past years improving and practising their process and with that, they’ve become kind of good at it, to be able to use and rely back on processes to always generate a certain level of outcome. And that’s something that the client team would have, but it’s their own process of their industry.

They will not be typically about research or talking to people, because then they would have been research companies, but they’re not. Yeah, so I think it’s these two points in the end, that’s what they’re actually paying for even though you’re not an expert in that area.

Desiree Lim, Kevin Yeo, Matthew Wong


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