Getting design into the C suite

I have long been a believer in the need to have designers in the C suite. However some recent research has made me wonder if we need to work differently to reach that level.

When we developed the Design Maturity report in 2019 we were very upbeat about the prospect of design operating at the top level where it is integrated into every part of a business.

Since we launched the report we have helped a large number of studios with new business development using the findings from our research. We have built it into advice we give in our Chair program and have worked directly with agencies to show how to apply the concept of design maturity when developing new business.

In general we found that a designers’ clients who adopted a design approach improved their operations, built a better reputation and had higher staff satisfaction. This flowed through to better bottom line results.

However there is still a need to better understand the benefits of being a design led business.

Results could be better

Recent research by McKinsey show just how far we have to go.

Companies that excel at design grow revenues and shareholder returns at nearly twice the rate of their industry peers.

So why aren’t more companies joining their ranks?

To answer the question, we interviewed 200 senior design leaders and 100 top executives and analyzed the answers of more than 1,700 respondents to the McKinsey Design Index (MDI) survey tool. What we found was striking: some 90 percent of companies weren’t reaching the full potential of design, even as, in the past five years, double the number of companies have added senior design roles to their organization.

Obviously if an in-house design leader has trouble getting the organisation to become design led, then an external consultant has an even bigger problem.

Why is this so?

The McKinsey article gives their take on the situation. I would summarise it this way.

Our research shows that ‘design thinking’, and ‘human centred design’ have become recognised terms in mainstream business.

Many CEO’s believe that they should ‘get into this stuff’. However they and their cohort don’t know how to make best use of designers in the organisation. They fully understand the aesthetic value of design. Some also see its use in improving customer experience. But very few see it at a strategic level in their business.

Yet we know it has high impact at this level. The highly ranked businesses in our Design Maturity report had design input at the strategy level through the CMO, CFO, COO and CTO.

Walk the talk

To push design into the strategy discussion we need to understand how the business operates.

We observe some of the agency owners we work with have a very good understanding of marketing, logistics, supply chain and buyer behaviour in the field they operate. This level of understanding has come from focusing on a single industry. Their success comes from being able to talk CEO, CFO, CMO, COO, CTO industry specific talk.

For a design agency to reach this level they need to first analyse the current use of design (their design maturity) and then apply industry know-how to extend that use. They need to start preparing business cases rather than pitches.

If you would to learn more about developing a deeper understanding of your clients’ design maturity contact Greg Branson.

Greg Branson

Contact Greg Branson if you would like to learn more about the many programs the DBC offers.

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Greg Branson

Greg’s passion is the research and development of methods that improve design management and the role of design in business.

Greg has developed The Design Business School to help owners manage their business better along with showing designers how to get more involved in the studio and develop their career path. Contact Greg.