Silicon Valley is developing a product that is going to disrupt your industry. Should you fire your CEO and replace them with a designer?
The Apples, Ubers and AirBnBs of the world have created a business model that demonstrates why design is a strategic imperative for business.
Businesses are under huge threat of a product coming along that is designed better, easier to use, and therefore adopted widely and can disrupt a whole industry over a few short years. Well played designers, well played.
The examples I use are companies that are design led by nature from the top down, the businesses they threaten are not. So we are in a place in time where bridging that gap has become necessary in adapting to the digital age, disruptive innovation and the experience economy.
Should you fire your CEO and replace them with a designer? No. So how should you bring design into your business?
Build design as a function of business, not a role.
What I mean by a business function are the departments business typically has for example— Marketing, Finance, Technology, HR, R&D. Where does design currently sit in your business? Is it inside Marketing, inside Technology? Both? Probably. That’s where I had been working up until recently.
This won’t do business, not anymore. You need design representation at board level. Designers simply can’t make magic for you when they are spending all their time explaining what design is and trying to mandate their inclusion from the bottom up. They need a structure that facilitates that and enables them to design like Apple.
A design function should look like this:
A department, with an executive who understands design and business (possibly someone who has built agencies or consultancies, or a lead designer who has been in your business long enough to take on the challenge) — this is the Chief Design Officer. Their role is the WHY, by understanding the business strategy and knowing how to develop and deliver the design strategy for the business. Then you need a layer of VP Designers, or Executive Creative Directors — who enable the HOW of the design function and dance between strategic and tactical leadership. As well ensuring that the design language is determined (by one team) and executed by multiple teams with consistency — but that’s a topic for another day. The Creative Directors then lead the teams of designers, develop the people, projects and processes that deliver the WHAT.
The design function should also run a design for non-designers academy to teach everyone in your business Design Thinking.
Side note: The maturity of this model is in it’s infancy in many countries (due to the role not function approach), go get the few best people that are able to do this, and grow the rest with patience, support, trust and phenomenal leadership.