Everyone designs!


Herbert Simon once said “Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones.” Before hearing that statement, I had a very narrow view of design. I thought design was for creative types or artists who made shoes, furniture or cool new technology products. I didn’t realize that design encompasses much more. And frankly, I never thought that what I do on a daily basis could ever be considered design.

Sure, design can be about making something look pretty, but Herbert Simon’s quote revealed to me that design is inherently about improvement. Improvement may come in the form of a new product or service, but it can also come in the form strategy, process or even policy. This means that government employees design. So, yes! You may not have known it, but you are a designer! No, you may not be a designer by training (they are big “D” Designers), but you are a little “d” designer. What exactly do I mean by little “d” designer? Well, little “d” designers are those, likely without formal design training, who are working to make life (in the most general sense) better.

Even as little “d” designers, we seek to envision better experiences for citizens and also work to figure out how to make that vision a reality. This is design as Todd Johnson describes it : “To design is to mark out a pattern as a means of making meaning of an experience. A design marks out a vision for what can be; the act of designing is to move with intent to close the gap between existing conditions and that vision.” If you aren’t inspired already, here are a few reasons why we, as government employees, should embrace our role as little “d” designers.

  • It can help to keep us motivated. As government employees, we are constantly being asked to do more with less. Taking a step back and remembering the important purpose we hold (like, working to improve situations for citizens) can give us an extra boost when we need it most.
  • It can remind us why we came to the government. All of the government employees that I know came to the government to make a difference. In between the spreadsheets, emails and policies that may have become our realities, recognizing that we’re little “d” designers can remind us that through all of the bureaucracy, we are still working for the social good.
  • It can empower us to envision an even greater future. Sometimes we can forget how much power we have to truly make a difference. Seeing our roles as little “d” designers will help us to embrace the power of our roles and incite us to work to create even better visions of the future for citizens.

Little “d” designers are drawing inspiration from all different sectors to create improvements for the world, including big “D” Designers. In fact, human-centered design is a discipline that can provide little “d” designers some of the tools of big “D” Designers, so that visions of the future are focused on the people for whom we are designing.

Blair Corcoran de Castillo is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Terrence Hill

Another point – there is little “i” innovation (e.g. converting to paperless processes, using apps instead of websites, etc.) and there is big “I” Innovation (e.g. consolidating agencies/programs, eliminating annual performance reviews, etc.) that is happening everyday in both the public and private sectors. The key is to never stop innovating!