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10 conditions to make the most out your Design organization

10 conditions to make the most out your Design organization

Ever wondered whether there is a way to measure the impact of design organization on a business?

Of course McKinsey has the answer to that. But, more importantly, they also have identified 10 conditions, which ultimately enable the design organization to maximize its value for any company. There are ten common traits among the leading organizations leveraging the design function – e.g., Amazon, Apple, Tesla, P&G, Nike,.. –which, according to a research of the Design Management Institute, outperform their competitors 2:1, because of their approach to design.

  1. Cross-functional Teams

While this comes as no surprise, there are still many organizations that fail at building cross-functional teams. Especially because these teams have their only manifestations, during endless project update meetings, which are self-expressions of project manager’s own vanity. Cross-functional teams should be built around the notion of war rooms, where they meet to make decisions, and to build and test “things”.


  1. Beyond field-expert designers

An easy way to justify the “entrance” of designers within an organization is their technical expertise in a specific field. “Digital Experts”. “User Interface Experts”. “Plastics with funny and round shapes – experts”. The truth to the matter is that while technology is not really converging – we have more devices today, more operating systems, and more apps than 20 years ago when the notion of convergence first emerged – physical and digital interfaces, experiences are converging. Users want exactly the same experience, with the same interface, whether they are banking on-line or in a branch. Therefore design is becoming more and more a cross-specialization competence, beyond traditional sub-competences. Leading companies recognize that trend and tap into it.


  1. Studio-type Environment

Interestingly enough – and again not surprisingly – the environment in which designers work, can either be a catalyst or a deterrent to designers’ productivity. Once more, an environment where people work together, by testing together, and by “making prototypes together”, encourages better innovation and speeds up the project. So a studio – type of office beats the cubicle anytime.


  1. Continuous Design

A critically differentiating aspect between leaders and the rest is the leveraging of designers throughout the business system. According to the cited McKinsey article, Nespresso constructed a museum-like retail experience, in addition to building a mobile-friendly store and a successful loyalty program, thanks to the involvement of designers beyond their traditional new product development function.


  1. Embrace quantitative research

Even I associate design and design thinking research, with qualitative insights. But in the era of big data, and with the emergence of more and more complex analytics, quantitative research is becoming a differentiating factor for organizations making the most of their design teams. The key is that analytics can help the identification of relevant underlying behaviors, which are usually unperceivable to the technologically-naked eye.


  1. Prototype often

Traditional innovation process rely on the notion that a concept, rather then a prototype suffice to compare with other innovative ideas, and make decisions on which ones have the best potential. Whereas, it is well known that early prototyping, improves the chances of a project to get to the next stage of innovation funnel. First and foremost, because prototype forces usage and commercialization thinking at an early stages. Potential issues are tackled early, and addressed early. Or project are just killed earlier, by leaving time for more deserving initiatives. Moreover, a prototype is a better and easier way to “sell” an initiative. It appeals to both the rational and emotional decision-making, and it is easier to understand for everybody.


  1. CDO

The higher the leader of the Design organization, the better is the signal that the organization believes in design, and design is there to stay. Having a Chief Design Officer reporting to the CEO and to the Board is the ultimate statement that the company is not using design, because it’s a hot management trend, but because they want to promote a cultural change.


  1. Incentive Systems

A stronger commitment to design happens when design-influenced metrics are part of the incentive system for non-designers. Because it creates a need and also an opportunity: a need to involve designers as much as possible, and an opportunity to let them function as users and customers’ advocates.


  1. Beyond Perspectives

While design-lead metrics can be linked to incentives, they should also be generated to create a common ground between designers, marketers and product developers. Metrics will help cross-functional teams to make decisions based on clear users’ trade off, rather then personal agendas, cost incentives or personal taste.


  1. Beyond incremental innovation

When all of the above happen – or most of them! – the focus of design goes well beyond incremental features, or replicating physical experiences in the digital world. And that means that organizations can embrace real transformation, by putting longer-term objectives to a table, usually filled with short-term cards.


In conclusion, having a design organization is a condicio sine qua non, but ensuring that design plays a significant role comes with conditions. Designing a design organization is not an easy exercise, and making the most out of it, requires commitment across all corners of the corporation.

Growth Adviser, Innovation Catalyst, Branding Architect, International Expansion Consultant. International change agent and leader, launched growth consulting boutique in 2012. We have four principal areas or intervention 1) Branding (e.g., positioning of new brands, re-positioning of existing brands, brand architecture and design) 2) Innovation (e.g., co-creation with consumers and experts, ideation, business planning, concept validation and fine-tuning) 3) International Expansion (e.g., countries screening and development of expansion plan, route to market strategy, portfolio) 4) Route to Market (e.g. marketing and commercial planning, portfolio analysis).