It's official. We are present at the birth of a business fad. I mean the headlong and heedless embrace of design as a solution to everything that ails a company. There's hardly an organization that hasn't proclaimed itself "design driven," hardly a magazine that hasn't suddenly started applauding design.
So what's different about Fast Company and our annual design issue? Well, we've been on this story for a while, and I believe our chops allow us to take the conversation further, to bring you insight you won't get from folks who've just tumbled onto the subject.
Here's the thinking you'll see suffusing this issue: Yes, design is powerful, and yes, it can have a profound impact. But it isn't magic, and it isn't easy. Harnessing design for business poses all kinds of management challenges and creates all sorts of internal conflicts.
In the opening essay by Roger Martin, a leading thinker on the subject, you'll read about the fundamentally different ways designers and businesspeople think. Elsewhere, you'll see how those differences actually play out—how graphic designer Paula Scher, for example, struggles to keep good work from being homogenized by bureaucrats. And in senior writer Jennifer Reingold's appraisal of
As the editor of this magazine, I have a firsthand appreciation of these tensions. Like the company leaders we write about, I've spent a lot of time thinking about managing our designers and how to balance creative license with discipline and focus. And like the companies that want to bring design into the first stages of product development, we've been trying to get art and edit to work together continuously and collaboratively. At the same time, as we've devoted more space in the magazine to visuals, there has been some unhappiness among the writers, who see that shift coming at the expense of their words. In this respect (if no other), they're like engineers who push back at design's growing clout.
The fact is, though, that Fast Company has always emphasized design, not only in our coverage but in our own pages. We do believe in the power of design, and in the possibility of a magazine whose beautiful pages reflect the dynamism and excitement of business.
In all of this, I am blessed to have at my side Fast Company's hugely talented art director, Dean Markadakis, and his great team. They've had a busy few months. They were tasked at the beginning of the summer with refreshing the design of the magazine, creating a cleaner, more seamless look and accommodating some editorial improvements. It is no accident that we're unveiling the result in our design issue.
Here's Dean on what he aimed to achieve: "The challenge was to create something that worked from a design perspective, keeping in mind that this is, after all, a business magazine, and should be useful as well as entertaining and beautiful." You hold the result in your hands, and I think you'll agree with me that Dean and his crew have met his goals, and then some.
A version of this article appeared in the October 2006 issue of Fast Company magazine.