Photo by Ryoji Iwata on Unsplash

Design is a team sport

Tim Allan
4 min readJan 23, 2024


There is a trope that I can’t stand — the aloof and somewhat truculent designer. One whose hot takes, expert opinion and cutting insights is what drives innovation. This is the embodiment of the ‘rock star designer’ a cringey tech-bro term referencing a singular genius that can be harnessed to deliver magic to any project.

For the initial and large part of my career I thought this was somewhat true. To some extent, elements of this are still true. I’ve worked with some wonderful people whose single contribution has really changed the course of a product. And it’s a seductive story as well — if you’re project is struggling, everyone loves a Zorro to come in and set the work to rights.

There may be several reasons for this. I suppose it may come from working in a field that is infused with trends and ‘taste drivers’, being across these things does create a sense of connoisseurship. I think also that being involved in a field that often gets mistaken for ‘decoration’ (“can you pretty up this powerpoint for me?”) and subsequent need to justify the deeper value of your work — can often create a ‘them and us’ mindset. The end result — on a level of a designer working in a team — is this stand-off between yourself and others.

Design is a great unifier

Now….I can’t disagree with this more. Design is a great unifier. Especially in complex organisations with siloed work practices.

As a practice design has low barriers to entry but also very high bar to deliver quality work. Everyone designs to some degree. From the layout of their powerpoint template. It’s both a verb: the doing and a noun: the end product or artefact or experience. Because of this, and the multiple ways that word and practice can be accessed, it makes it a great meeting point for many people. A low barrier to entry is a true benefit, because it means you can collaborate with more people.

Design is a great connector within organisations — and I’ve worked in quite a few — especially for ‘alignment’ — making sure everyone has the same information and as similar view as possible. But also for decision making. Designs skill here is making things tangible so that teams can make the best quality decision possible.

It echoes the Amazon PRFAQ process here. In Working Backwards and in this interview on the A166Z podcast, Amazon exec extolled its virtues in ensuring that Amazon decision makers, made better quality decisions because they had higher quality information than their competitors.

In my work, being able to expose all levels of touch-points (see my blog post on Design’s Dual Focus) from visualising the end-to-end service experience to the individual touch-points and the interactions that drive a customer through a digital experience, is a super power. Design makes this tangible. The artefacts that emerge from the design process, ensures everyone is across the organisational mechanisms that support customer interactions.

However, there’s an aspect here that is often overlooked. The artefacts the design process produces tend to be highly informative — things that clearly tell the story, and help answer many unseen questions. I’ve seen organisations produce process flows — which are a great first step in showing basic movements through a service, but are ultimately poor proxies for mapping the actual user experience.

However, Service Design blueprints created from a data foundation from user research, can clearly connect the dots between customer touch-points and the organisation mechanisms needed to deliver the service. The decision making and cross-team alignment that emerges from exposing these processes is invaluable.

This is especially valuable when the experience becomes complicated, and touches multiple parts across the organisation. In many cases, single teams or business units might be respoinsble for just one part of the experience. Often they may be only indirectly influence it. Its very hard to make changes to service that crosses multiple silos if you can’t get everyone aligned about what the end to end offering is. If you’re looking to innovate across the entire value chain, then maps if this quality, based on great customer data, are invaluable in helping this process.

Tony Fadell talks about this in Build. A detailed understanding of your product and service emerges when time is taken to help shine the light on the less showing, but incredibly important parts of your journey:

Make as much of the experience as possible. Make the intangible tangible so you can’t overlook the less showy but incredibly important parts of the journey.

You should be able to map out and visualise exactly how a customer discovers, considers, isntalls, uses, fixes, and even returns your product.

It all matters

The blind men and the Elephant

There is a parable about several blind me, all grasping a different part of an elephant and describing to each other what they experience. It shows on one level, the certitude of each person in thinking their view if the right one. However, even though they’re all communicating to each other, neither has the full picture, nor do they unite their views.

This is how I see design being effective — in creating a common, and unifying view across the team. Its activities, user research, prototyping and making, are great at making things that teams can centre their understanding on. It’s a key component of great team work.

Blind monks examining an elephant, an ukiyo-e print by Hanabusa Itchō (1652–1724).



Tim Allan Fmr: Design Manager for clinical care @ Babylon. Fmr Lead Design/research in Urgent & Emergency Care at RCA MRES