Fast Company conducted a survey to learn just how critical a role people believe design plays in their organizations. (We teamed up with IMD, the Switzerland-based business school, and Egon Zehnder International, the executive-recruiting firm, to do it.) Overwhelmingly, the 707 people who answered the online questionnaire see design as a critical competitive and strategic weapon. A whopping 90% agreed that top management needs to champion design; 89% see it as an essential way to make connections with customers; and 84% say it's a vital way of solving problems.
Here's where things get really interesting: Besides asking people for their own views, we also asked them to tell us how they believed top managers at their companies thought about design. And they gave their bosses much lower scores—saying, for example, that only 58% see design as something they need to understand. The upshot? These folks have a better understanding of the strategic role of design than they give top managers credit for, says Sean Meehan, professor of marketing and director of IMD's MBA program. "Individuals feel their top management is letting them down."
Here are the results of our first Fast Track Leadership Survey.
Fast Track Leadership Survey
At some companies, design is seen as a critical competitive advantage—the most important way to differentiate products or services today. Others might argue that design is more superficial and that meaningful differentiation comes from fundamental improvements in technology or reductions in cost. We'd like your opinion about the role of design in business.
PART l. Thinking about the top management of your company in general, how would you rate the statements below about their view of design?
|The top managers at my company think design is:||Strongly agree||Agree||Neither agree nor disagree||Disagree||Strongly disagree|
|1. An effort they'll devote more resources to in the future||20.80%||39.90%||17.80%||17.30%||4.20%|
|2. Really just about how something looks||7.8||26||13.2||38.3||14.7|
|3. Too easily duplicated to provide a lasting advantage||3.8||20.2||24||39.9||12.1|
|4. A vital way of solving problems and driving innovation||22.1||34.7||16.1||21.9||5.2|
|5. Something that can be left to the design department||9.8||23.2||18.4||35||13.6|
|6. An essential way to make lasting connections with consumers||30.8||34.7||16.3||14.1||4.1|
|7. A key competitive weapon against low-cost imports||22.5||26.7||28.7||16.4||5.7|
|8. Much less important than more technical research and development||14.1||21.6||20.8||34.9||8.6|
|9. Fairly far down on the list of budget priorities||13.7||23.3||17.5||32.2||13.3|
|10. A discipline that top management needs to understand and champion||23.2||34.8||18.5||16.3||7.2|
PART ll. Now, thinking about your own view, how would you rate the statements below about design?
|I believe design is:||Strongly agree||Agree||Neither agree nor disagree||Disagree||Strongly disagree|
|1. An effort we'll devote more resources to in the future||30.60%||39.30%||13.10%||14.60%||2.40%|
|2. Really just about how something looks||2.3||5.7||5.4||45.2||41.4|
|3. Too easily duplicated to provide a lasting advantage||2.8||9.5||14.1||48.7||24.9|
|4. A vital way of solving problems and driving innovation||43.6||40.1||10.3||5||1|
|5. Something that can be left to the design department||1.7||6.5||10.7||48.1||33|
|6. An essential way to make lasting connections with consumers||53.3||35.9||6.4||3.4||1|
|7. A key competitive weapon against low-cost imports||38.8||33.9||19.7||5.8||1.8|
|8. Much less important than more technical research and development||3.1||7.2||20.8||50.1||18.8|
|9. Fairly far down on the list of budget priorities||3.3||15.1||19.2||42.7||19.7|
|10. A discipline that top management needs to understand and champion||54.5||35.8||6.5||2.8||0.4|
A version of this article appeared in the June 2005 issue of Fast Company magazine.