Design Should Be At The Core Of Everything
When your book is number one and it hasn’t even hit the stores, you know you’re doing something right. I interviewed the designers of “Design A Better Business” to understand what their secret is. And believe it or not… It’s design.
Maarten, wearing custom made shoes, fashionable glasses and skinny jeans, seems like the complete opposite of Erik van der Pluijm: long hair, loose t-shirt and comfy old sneakers. These two brilliant minds do have something in common though: they love, live and breathe design. Together with Patrick van der Pijl they took on a great challenge: write a book in 100 days. They knew it was going to be tough, but they took the jump, dove in head-first… And won.
Their book about design was number 1 Hot Release on Amazon, number 1 management book in the Netherlands and the success doesn’t just stop here. I’ve been working with these two crazy rebels for 1,5 years now and I think it is about time to share their vision with the rest of the world. Because when you want to understand design, these are the guys you want to talk to.
A book about design should be designed. So where do you start? Maarten en Erik decide to start with something they were certain about: they made a list of design criteria. Maarten: “There was no doubt about it: the book was going to get published. So we started with some criteria that we thought were essential for the book to be a success. For example: we wanted the book to look and feel good. You should be drawn to this book when you’re in the bookshop. We also wanted that you could understand every single page, no matter on what page you started reading. But design criteria can also clarify what you don’t want. In this case, we never had the intention to write a book that implied there was only one way to success, like some sort of silver bullet. The strength of this book is that it shows you that successful products and services derive from dealing with uncertainty. And what might be uncertain to you, can be crystal clear to me. Therefore, the road to success is different for everyone.”
Erik: “The book is just a tool that we use to get the conversation going and stimulate a discussion: we truly believe that no matter what you do, design should be at the core of it. So whether you’re writing a book, scaling your startup, improving a service or prepare a meeting? Design it. It’s a misconception to think that a designer only thinks about styling and pretty images. Actually, all of that is secondary to a designer. A real designer has a helicopter view and never stops challenging himself. He scans all of his options, investigates his opportunities and confronts himself. “Can I do this better? Is this good or is it good enough?” And then work on it! There were times that I felt like what we were doing wasn’t good enough. I could’ve ignored this feeling, and pretend I didn’t feel insecure about certain chapters. Instead, I pushed harder. I wanted to understand what was wrong, so I could fix it. I knew there was a solution, so I dove deeper into the insecurity and eventually found the answer. The chapters, which we worked on for over a week, were thrown away and we worked on a better solution.”
Talking to these two designers makes you wonder what you are insecure about yourself, and how you could use that to your advantage so you can create an even better business. When I ask Maarten how to embrace the mindset of a designer he starts laughing and explains “A mindset is a comprehensive thing. When you embrace the mindset, you embrace uncertainty! Dare to ask the difficult questions: “Why am I feeling insecure about this? What is wrong?” It’s a continuous journey of searching, and you’re never done. But that’s a good thing, although you might feel lost. Design forces you to step out of your comfort zone and to create something you’ve never done before.”
“You will never create something that will make others think ‘wow that’s interesting, I’ve never looked at it like that!’ if you refuse to explore new options. I rather have people looking at how a music video is made and generate inspiration from that, than try to learn stuff from someone who is 5% better at making Excel sheets”, Erik adds.
No wonder these guys spend two pages at the beginning of the book on how a designer is ‘A rebel with a cause’. One of the core competences they describe here, is “Don’t fly solo”. I think Maarten and Erik took this a bit too serious, as they worked for 100 days, non-stop in an Amsterdam studio nicknamed “The Cave”. Where we would normally do a beer together on Friday afternoon, they would stay in to work on the book, order pizza and when finally going home to take a shower, realize it was already Monday…
How they did it? “We trust each other. We’ve been working together for years and we always make sure that we have the same goal and that we’re on the same page. Of course there were moments that we totally disagreed, and that one of us told the other that his work sucked. But we did that because we believed it was hurting the story we were trying to tell. Eventually we all wanted to create a book that made people think differently about their challenges and opportunities. And gives them tools to achieve their goals!” Erik explains.
When I finished this interview, I felt like I was caught up in a whirlwind of information. I had no idea where to start with this blog and how I could bring across their message; there is enough content for a series of blogs. It frustrated me. But then it hit me… That is exactly the uncertainty they were talking about. So I started asking the most difficult question first: what do I want to tell my readers? Well… Design should be at the core of everything.