Put Design At The Core of Business Today

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Here’s a piece of data that should raise an eyebrow (or two)…

66% of CEOs could not say what their Chief Design Officer actually do or how to measure their success… 90% of companies aren’t using design talent to their full potential. That is a paraphrase of an article published the other day in Fast Company titled, McKinsey study of 1,700 companies reveals CEOs don’t understand design leadership at all, which is based on the McKinsey study, Are you asking enough from your design leaders? Here’s the thing: having a Chief Design Officer is very a la mode. It’s the thing. Being focused on design or being a design-led organization sends a signal that a company is focused on the customer experience and the development of better products and services. Based on this article – and the study by McKinsey – it seems like companies are (not surprisingly) good at checking boxes, but poor at integrating this type of talent and output into an organization.

If you’re not focused on design, then what are you focused on? 

Design is the new digital. Design is the new marketing. Design is the new customer experience. The truth is that good design came along before all of those developments in better business practice. Where does design sit in the organization? Who leads design? What kind of team do they have? How is this team adding economic value to the organization? How is that being measured? A million more questions. Ben Sheppard (a partner at McKinsey Design who co-authored the study) articulates the problem much better than I can:

“Design is like a strategy that seems to mean 100 things to 100 people. The all-encompassing term of design we see is understanding user needs and creating solutions for user needs… many CEOs are still using the 1980s definition of color, material, and finish.”

It sounds like the same challenge that marketing had to get into the c-suite all over again.

Marketing (product, price, promotion and place) became “the advertising budget” for most organizations. CEOs didn’t see marketing as a core function (or value) of the business. We know this, because that rationale is what gave rise to the advent of the advertising agency. Companies abdicated the role of marketing to an external ad agency (this went on for decades – for some companies it still does). Companies thinking about design are now grappling with the same problem. “How do I bring design into my organization, when I already have a Chief Strategy Office, a Chief Marketing Officer and Chief Customer Officer?” It’s a fair question, only if they see design as the “color, material and finish” of the product and service. I don’t see design that way. Nor should you.

Design is at the center of everything.

That’s not a line from Fast Company, McKinsey or a renowned Chief Design Officer. That’s the soul of your business today. If it’s not… then it should be. Design is what the customer uses and experiences – at every twist and turn. If you’re not designing your business, the products, the services, the experience, then what are you working on? A better lead gen campaign? A loyalty program? The next version of your widget? How is that coming into fruition without design at the core?

Every company talks about being design-led. Maybe a better question is how is design being led in your business today?