The Design Vision Trap

Brent Palmer
3 min readMar 21, 2019

Awakening your organization’s celestial consciousness with little information

The Dark Art of Vision Casting

Many design leadership job specifications include a remit of creating a “design vision.” This can be broadly understood as incubating what the design offering will look like in 1–3 years time. Often, the goals for the vision aren’t as clear. What do we mean when we talk about design vision? It’s easy to conjure the spirit of Max Miedinger and shepherd the flock out of the wilderness. Keynote presentations are made, principles are hatched, and then the inevitable happens; the leader is distracted with hiring, drowned in CVs and recruiting. Or, she exhausts all her relational capital changing the culture of the entire organisation and burns out. Talent leaves or goes underdeveloped. It takes a deft hand to chart a course through partnerships instead of imposing a vision with extremely fluid information.

When a designer is lost he must reach into the Spirit World to find a way.

Visions unpacked

When the design leader is ready to roll out a vision, she can pull from an extensive list of hacks, tips, and strategies for selling ideas. As storytellers, we’re good at communicating the hero journey, delivering ideas with nuance, and visualising an idyllic future. What often gets left behind are the procedures and operational details that make our vision come to life. We’re good at the “why,” soft on the “how.”

“We were trying for a vision quest. We opened up three buttons and all we saw was desert trash.”

— Craig Finn, The Hold Steady

Vision casting is exciting amongst designers but how do Engineering and Product peers perceive (and define) it? More importantly, is it valuable to them? Can multiple visions exist at one company? What future state needs to be realised and can it be accomplished without Design? Is “vision” code for another tactical need? Let’s look. Here are some real examples in the last week from brands you’ve probably heard of.

1. Vision as 🤷

“Paint a long-term vision of where we should go as a company.”

“Continue to cast a vision for the growth of design.”

“Define a strategic vision for what we build, helping focus on solving user problems.”

“Drive the development of a long term vision for the product experience and business offering.”

2. Vision as efficiency

“You can articulate and execute his/her vision from concept to production.”

“Define the design team’s vision and to help set team and individual goals.”

“Define bold, long-term visions for our products and services, and motivate both teams and individual designers to achieve them.”

“Deliver a UX vision, along with a plan for evolutionary, iterative updates, that actualize the larger vision over time.”

3. Vision as education

“Create the vision for new features, and be a strong partner to the Engineering and Product teams in order to realize the company’s ultimate vision.”

“You set the vision for the user experience and create the space for others to collaborate.”

“Develop the user experience vision and garner support for this vision among your organizational peers.”

“Have a passion and skill for nurturing relationships and building rapport to align teams around a vision.”

Next step

Take a road trip to Marfa, TX.

Making the world a better place—through design.

Tributaries instead of branches

When you hire smart people many “visions” emerge. Each person will have an opinion as to the direction of the product, company or offering. Wouldn’t it be more prudent and helpful if leaders supported and encouraged the corporate visions and initiatives that already exist? Think of your design vision as a tributary rather than a branch. If principles, values, or strategies are present, why muddy the waters with a unique design-oriented one? Learn first, then mobilise others around what gaps emerge. Try and plan eighteen months out in advance. It’s a future you can see clearly and recruit others to come alongside you on the journey. Leverage the existing ethos and map your design principles to the company’s values. Ask hard questions to uncover what is truly needed from a design vision.

One Vision is all you need.



Brent Palmer

Design leader and manager @Mixpanel. Previously @Fast @Zendesk @PayPal @TrendKite @Spredfast.