Design masterclass: MAS are designers too

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Design, just like management advisory services (MAS), is a compound of rational, ideal and pragmatic enquiry, argues Tim Smallwood FFCSI

“Good design adds value faster than it adds cost”: Joel Spolsky, creator of Trello

Why do we in FCSI have the separation of management advisory services (MAS) consultants from design consultants? Designers advise and MAS consultants also advise their clients – and in fact approach them as a designer would. It is the design way that MAS consultants approach their resolution of solutions that is the similarity that joins the two.

To understand how this comes about it is necessary to consider the process and even the basic culture of design. This culture has been described by Harold G. Nelson and Eric Stolterman in The Design Way as comprising foundations, fundamentals and metaphysics. The foundations are equivalent to the first principals or givens. Fundamentals are the core concepts of the design approach that can be learned and improved on with practice and the metaphysics arise as a consequence of the interaction between the foundations and the fundamentals of the design culture and with the more broad aspects of the human condition. So far there would seem to be no difference between MAS and design thinking.

The creative factor

A factor that might complicate the comparison is creativity. Creativity is frequently identified with the arts and design but it is equally important in the sciences. The thing about design is that it is not solely creative but is inclusive of innovative, productive and compositional activities as well. As a result, design transcends particular contexts, specific disciplines or single concepts, why not MAS?

Innovation and production differ from creativity in that they are generally directed to taking action in the real world, whereas creativity can be done for its own sake. However in design, creativity is but one aspect. Design comprises reflective and critical thinking, productive action and responsible follow-through as the most effective and efficient means of getting organisations and individuals to new places. In fact therefore, design and consulting generally is about leadership.

An FCSI Professional member consultant will provide leadership whether MAS or design which can be summarised as providing direction, nearly always based on insufficient information, within limited time constraints and resources. The constraints generally mean that they cannot be resolved through the traditional scientific, artistic or pragmatic technology approach. Leaders have to imagine, implement and communicate adequate responses that are sustainable in all their aspects. This calls for judgement, not problem solving.

The structure of this design enquiry approach can refer equally to MAS as design and in this context are characterised by HG Nelson as:

  • Organised patterns of thinking, that is, models of (design) enquiry
  • Organised clusters of ideas for guiding (design) inquiry
  • Strategies for gaining (design) knowledge with the purpose of taking action
  • Cognitive frameworks representing a means of managing systemic inquiry formulated around specific (design) issues
  • Insights into how to give form to infinitely complex information and sense data
  • Cognitive structures that organise subjective, objective and imaginative (design-thinking) processes

One and the same?

This approach into how we learn and understand things is structured to support design enquiry and action and is used to form particular representations or aspects of ideal things out of a cloud of possibilities. It is a process that brings things into existence whose outcomes are not predetermined but are the consequence of human judgement.

The proposition of MAS and design consulting as being one and the same process in our industry, is also based on the premise that problem solving is basically reactive whereas design is pro-active (Rittel 1972) when formulating change. This comes about by its focus on intentional actions that lead to outcomes that are both desirable and appropriate rather than just avoiding undesirable outcomes. Design, like MAS is a compound of rational, ideal and pragmatic enquiry.

In the process of designing change there is a sense that we start with the analogue, move to the digital to work through the processes and then return to the analogue with the resolution. But if formulas and rules are being applied to solve problems, that is not consulting in any form and can be replaced by artificial intelligence (AI).

It is the integrated deductive approach when applied to design and MAS thinking that cannot be replaced by AI and is therefore essential to the future relevance of FCSI consultants; both MAS and design and the culture of the organisation as a whole.

Tim Smallwood FFCSI