You can’t value everything, or “Priorities are hard”

Ask someone if their company values design and they’ll almost certainly say yes. Ask them a week later if they value speed to market, or having a large bucket list of features, and they’ll say yes too.

Saying you value something is easy. Setting priorities in an organization, such that those values are actually treated as important is hard. And companies really can’t afford to prioritize all their values. A company gets one or two things that it can rank above all else.

Microsoft clearly prioritized wide support in the Windows vs. Mac war. Apple continues to value quality of experience over other things—that’s why they created the Lightning connector over some USB offshoot. Neither way is necessarily “right” (though often people will have a value that they similarly prioritize, which can explain why they identify with that company).

The worst thing a company can do internally is try to value too many things. When employees are caught up in debates, there can be no easy resolution if the company doesn’t worship at the altar of some higher prioritized value. Microsoft and Apple are great companies because we’ve tended to see this from each.

So if you’re a CEO who says you value design, pony up. Can you say that a project’s ship date was bumped because the design wasn’t good enough? Are your designers more than Photoshop pixel pushers, and paid accordingly? If not, you don’t really value design. If you did it would be a priority. Priorities are those things for which other concerns are pushed aside. Each company can have their own priority (or two?)—just make sure you actually pick one. Otherwise you’ll spend endless time debating on internal debates; your people won’t have a clear guide to which value wins when push comes to shove.