How to Tell if a Company Values Design

Scott Kiekbusch
Apr 23, 2018 · 5 min read

Do you work for an organization that values design & designers? How can you tell? Today I read a post on LinkedIn, The 10 principles of building a world-class design team, that touches on the importance of working for a company that values design. This was the brief definition used in the post:

“What does it mean when a company values design? It means that Design has a seat at the table at the highest level of leadership, as well as a financial commitment to grow and evolve.”

At a high level this is a simple way to begin uncovering whether an organization values design. I want to drill in deeper here and share some additional signs that your work as a designer will be valued in an organization.

First off all, why does it matter? This might be a blatantly obvious question, but working for an organization that doesn’t appreciate the skills you bring to the table will result in frustration, leading to employees who quit or simply phone it in to collect a paycheck versus designers who go above and beyond to bring their A game. Since we all want to feel appreciated and do our best work, here are some ways to identify businesses that value the role of design:

Look At The Work

There’s little else that designers appreciate more than great design. Well-executed products can only be created by organizations that value and collaborate closely with designers.

Is the work produced by an organization simple, clear, and easy to use? Does the architecture of an app or website reveal tasks a user may want to complete, or does it resemble the corporate org chart? Can you tell that time has been spent focusing on details that enhance & differentiate the experience? Do other designers use the business & their products as an example of good work?

Seeing great design in the wild is an easy first step to identifying businesses that value design. Many organizations — realizing that design is a differentiator and driver of success — are transitioning to focus more energy on integrating design more deeply into the process. If you’re working for, or considering working for a less mature organization when it comes to design, here are some additional signals to look for.

Design Isn’t Billed as a Cost Center

Examples of cost centers in an organization usually include Human Resources, IT, Accounting, Marketing, and sometimes Design. Investopedia defines a cost center as, “a department within an organization that does not directly add to profit but still costs the organization money to operate.” Cost centers tend to have fixed annual budgets, and their effectiveness is often judged by how close management can adhere to (or come in below) their budget. The goal of every business is twofold: Increase profits & reduce costs. This means that the skills of people within departments designated as cost centers are often commoditized; in other words, “when products [skills] become more similar from a buyer’s point of view, they will tend to buy the cheapest.”

From a dollars & cents standpoint, this is a very tangible way of identifying value within an organization. As a designer (or any skilled employee for that matter) you want to avoid businesses that view you as a commodity — someone to be replaced or outsourced for cheaper labor based on a fixed budget.

Opportunities For Professional Development

In order to retain and up-skill designers an organization has to be dedicated to the professional development of their employees. Managers that take the time to understand the growth opportunities of their staff and who are provided with the means to proactively deliver training are a good sign that the business is interested in hiring & keeping talent. Training opportunities aren’t just conferences; they may be internally organized, chances to learn new skills, practice old ones, or act as a mentor/mentee.

Career Paths Are Well Defined

Are there well-defined opportunities for your to advance within the organization? If you were to receive a promotion, do you know what your new job would entail; would you want the job?

Businesses that value design should be able to provide diverse growth opportunities, all the way from college interns to the highest level of the organization. Roles should be clear, and employees at all levels should feel as though they’re able to contribute. When design is truly integrated, there’s a good chance that growth opportunities may span traditional disciplines. People in design roles could transition fairly easily to become product owners, marketing executives, strategic directors, or account leads.

Equitable Relationships Between Design, Technology, and Business

I’ve saved the most critical point for last. This is the single clearest signal that an organization values design. Who is empowered to make the most critical decisions? Who sends out the emails announcing important company news? Who gets up to speak in front of the organization (or the public) at company-wide meetings or product launches? If these types of events don’t feature members of the design community within your organization, there’s a solid chance that design is not truly valued.

The people allowed to make decisions for and represent an organization are the ones that set the cultural tone; they’re the ones that define what matters. If your company-wide all hands meeting spends most of the time discussing profits & growth, sales matters. If the product launch focuses on engineering, features, and deadlines, delivery & technology matter. If an organization understands & socializes the needs of the customer, defines a product vision, sweats the small stuff, and celebrates opportunities to test & learn, design matters. I’m not implying one should matter more than another; it’s a balancing act. Just observing where the focus commonly lies is a great barometer for what’s considered important in a company’s culture.

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Great design isn’t easy. It’s a collaborative & complex effort to deliver value to users that evokes an emotional response and fosters a deeper connection to the product and brand. Organizations that ensure design has a seat at the table, focusing on customer needs, and helping make important product decisions won’t just lure and retain great design talent, they’ll also attract droves of loyal customers.

Think Like A Designer

Thinking like a designer goes beyond creating great…

Think Like A Designer

Thinking like a designer goes beyond creating great products; it’s a mindset that can enhance your career, your business, even your life.

Scott Kiekbusch

Written by

Digital product design & strategy expert. Team builder. Stoic. Keynote speaker. Co-Author of The Designer’s Guide to Product Vision http://amzn.to/2Epfb3U

Think Like A Designer

Thinking like a designer goes beyond creating great products; it’s a mindset that can enhance your career, your business, even your life.