The influence of design is growing and the corporate world has started to take notice. If you’ve been keeping an eye on the industry of late, you may have picked up on what is now a well-established trend. The trend I am talking about is big companies paying substantial amounts of money for design expertise – recognizing the impact of design on the bottom line and acquiring design studios.
The most recent example of this is the acquisition of Lunar by McKinsey. Lunar is a top design firm, known for its work with clients like Apple and HP. McKinsey has been described by Fortune as “the most well-known, most secretive, most high-priced, most prestigious, most consistently successful, most envied, most trusted, most disliked management consulting firm on earth”.
For a merger of corporate and design operations to be successful, designers need to understand how to provide business leadership in a variety of capacities – internally, with clients, and with the world at large.
What does it mean to be a design leader?
Businesses should be thinking about how leadership in design can be enacted within their own company. Change management may be able to offer a few pointers, but for the most part, companies and internal design teams are navigating relatively uncharted territory.
Here are four steps to help establish a foundation for conversations about expectations for design roles:
1. Define how design directly impacts the business.
Design has helped some financial institutions differentiate their products and services more successfully, leading to large Customer Experience and User Experience teams being created.
While design and research teams may work together to bring the customer voice to a variety of brand touch points, the need for internal systems and structures to promote an “outside-in” product and service approach should not be forgotten.
By understanding exactly how design impacts the business, you are able to establish a baseline for evaluating design leadership.
2. Turn design successes into shareable stories.
For any organization, investing in design and focusing on its customers are key steps forward, but maintaining internal momentum might present the greatest challenge. To maintain momentum, try to capture recent success stories where design and business have worked together – creating a solution in which the whole has proved to be greater than the sum of its parts.
Uncommon marriages like these will ultimately be required for customer-centric alignment and differentiation of product strategies.
3. Be proactive about learning and development.
This may require a scheduled time where design management is able to communicate and discuss their expectations within the domain of “design leadership.” How closely is design leadership following the aforementioned baseline? If the group has drifted, why is that so?
Working through change entails continued commitment and focus, specifically when it comes to real-time processing. It’s essential to pivot when a particular direction simply isn’t working.
Design leadership is a term that needs to be revisited over time as it may evolve alongside a business. In addition, it’s important for design leaders to reflect on how they will bring their unique skills to bear in a business climate that is in a constant state of change.
4. Evaluate. Learn from your mistakes. Adjust.
Every business is different and there’s no specific roadmap for integration of design leadership skills into a 21st-century business. This makes it critical to generate a planning framework with clearly stated goals. Spell out what design leadership looks like for your organization:
- What does it look like when it is fully integrated?
- What does true cross-functional behaviour look like?
- Create quarterly checkpoints to measure successes and challenges
Don’t be afraid to shift your approach. Acknowledge honestly what’s working and what’s not. As management, encourage the candid exchange of information from multiple stakeholders. The value of design needs to take into account business, technology, and customer needs.
For organizations that understand the value of, and have invested in design, the time to think deeply about design leadership is now. It doesn’t make good business sense to invest heavily in recruiting design talent without also investing in processes to ensure that the organization is able to retain, grow, and capitalize on that talent.
Can’t afford to buy your own design agency? You can still learn about how your brand communicates with its target market:
via: FastCoDesign, Wired.