THE BLOG
18/06/2012 08:23 BST | Updated 14/08/2012 06:12 BST

The Designer's Rise Into the Upper Echelons of Business

Traditionally, the role of the designer has been to make a concept work. The designer was the creative 'brains' behind a successful product, but existed outside of the realm of the C-Suite. Yet this is starting to change. Today, designers are no longer an auxiliary of the boardroom, but are coming up with the ideas from within the highest ranks of a company.

Traditionally, the role of the designer has been to make a concept work. The designer was the creative 'brains' behind a successful product, but existed outside of the realm of the C-Suite. Yet this is starting to change. Today, designers are no longer an auxiliary of the boardroom, but are coming up with the ideas and putting them into action from within the highest ranks of a company.

It's an interesting time for designers. Design has a big role to play in a world that has great appreciation for aesthetics, particularly when it comes to technology and digital experiences. Businesses are sitting up and taking notice of design and responding to the market demand for well-designed products. It's only natural then that this shift in corporate ethos is having an impact on boardroom roles, bringing the role of the designer on par with that of the rest of the C-Level team. Just as the 19th century was an era of discovery and industrial manufacturing, the 21st is an era that will be defined by progressions in science, technology and digital.

We saw a similar shift 40 years ago when an increased focus on consumer marketing and branding gave rise to the role of the Chief Marketing Officer. Now it's all about design. Today's consumers are increasingly savvy towards marketing - we know when we are being advertised to - and hence companies are putting less of an emphasis on traditional marketing approaches, and more on the design of services and products that are both well considered and offer a new kind of experience. Furthermore, a well-designed product takes pressure off of marketing, as it is often able to reach consumers by its own merits.

There's another interesting trend that is having an impact on how design is perceived in an organisation; the ubiquity of the mobile phone and the opportunity it presents in terms of branding and user experience. Mobile devices play a huge part in our lives, impacting how we interact, share experiences and connect. Yet the proliferation of additional platforms and interfaces means it is much harder for companies to achieve beauty and consistency. This is where the CDO is indispensable; helping brands build trust and engagement with their customers through great design. The CDO can also help businesses understand customers, define new products and services, and build marketing and innovation into services where it previously hasn't existed. As technology becomes smarter and more mobile, the importance of the CDO will grow.

A number of companies are already investing heavily in a design approach and it's not just Apple, with the infamous Jony Ive, who has appointed design specialists to senior executive roles. This month PepsiCo announced that the company has appointed its first Chief Design Officer, 3Ms design guru Mauro Porcini. Similarly, the EVP of Design at Nokia, Marko Ahtissari, reports directly to CEO Stephen Elop, while Samsung has underlined its emphasis on design as a brand differentiator by making former Creative Chief Choi Gee Sung its CEO last year.

We are witnessing a tangible shift where the CDO is moving up the company in one acronym or another and while the potential threat this poses to other C-Suite roles remains to be seen, there is evidence to suggest it makes sense for a CMO and CDO to work together. A recent IBM survey of 1,700 CMOs found that key challenges for marketers lay in devising and designing experiences for tablets and mobile devices - a problem the CDO could naturally solve. A CDO is also well placed to work with a Chief Technology Officer: it would make sense for a consumer-focused company to make engineering a tool of the product team, and not vice versa.

Design is fusing into a company's corporate culture and has a powerful role to play helping businesses introduce some of the most innovative products and services to market. Yet, as any great designer will attest, products and services are only successful if they can blend into and make a difference to people's lives. To do so effectively requires an innovative mind-set and it's this approach that will set the winners and losers apart in years to come.