It’s an existential question for designers: Do businesses take design seriously enough, and are designers given the voice in strategic decision making that they deserve? Or in more colloquial terms–does design truly have a seat at the table, today?
As design has grown up over the last decade and proven its value to companies, the industry has achieved much greater status in the business world. Companies like Airbnb, Nike, and Pinterest are now proudly “design led,” with designers at the highest echelons of each business’s leadership. Other businesses, recognizing that some of the world’s most innovative companies deliberately put design first, are continuing to build out their own design teams. On Co.Design earlier this year, Kate Aronowitz of Google Ventures declared that “many designers hold the coveted seat at the table we’ve long been dreaming of. We’re making key strategic decisions and helping to shape the direction of companies. We got here because we proved design can solve big problems in a way that others cannot.”
But is the focus on design really more than just lip service and savvy marketing? AIGA’s annual Design Census, which attempts to present a portrait of the current state of design, suggests that some designers themselves have their doubts. One of many topics the census highlights are the biggest challenges facing design as an industry today. Thirteen thousand designers were surveyed for the census, and the number-one critical industry issue they cited was that design still does not have this seat at the table.
This may be because design has not been embraced in many business environments, even as it has brought value to large companies that have embraced it. “Design thinking,” the industry’s love-to-hate buzzword, has turned design into a core business practice, but that doesn’t mean that its results are truly acknowledged, let alone implemented. Companies might put thousands of employees through design thinking bootcamp, but it’s hard to say whether that affects real long-term change, especially in big, bureaucratic institutions.
Co.Design wants to hear from you. Have you ever sat at the table and participated in business decisions? Have you worked at a company where design wasn’t prioritized? What should designers do to ensure they have a role in shaping a company’s strategy? We’ve created a survey so you can tell us how you really feel. You can answer it directly here or fill it out above. We will only quote responses in future stories if you give us explicit permission to do so. Any questions? Email CoDTips@fastcompany.com.