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How design is helping business leaders take innovation to the next level

What used to be a means to connect with customers is becoming a top-down integrative discipline. A new report reveals how to capture its full power.

How design is helping business leaders take innovation to the next level
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This article was created as part of a collaborative effort by IIT Institute of Design, Capital One, Google, Ford, Philips, Salesforce, and VMLY&R. 

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For the last decade or more, companies have begun understanding that putting customers at the center of omni-channel experiences is table stakes for staying relevant and responsive to evolving customer needs.

Companies have often been attuned to shareholder needs, solely focusing on design as an end goal for external uses. But what if business leaders started tapping into design’s toolkit to close the gap between business intent and outcome?

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A better use for design is becoming clear as design matures and evolves from being a transactional, outward-facing function into an integrative discipline. A groundbreaking study by IIT Institute of Design (ID) and six partner organizations dives deep into how design, combined with business strategy, can drive the seamless experiences that are increasingly demanded by both internal and external ecosystems.

“Nearly all professionals today recognize the burgeoning popularity of design thinking and generally accept that successful, forward-thinking organizations need design,” says ID Dean Denis Weil. “But most organizations have yet to make a place for design that engages its full power, not only at the initiative level, but also at the cross-functional, enterprise level.”

Evidenced by recent reports from McKinsey, Fjord, and Invision, business and design leaders who recognize their approaches as mutually strategic are better at realizing innovative products and services that seamlessly integrate into customer routines. Today, business is not only about revenue stream and shareholders. And design is not just an after-the-fact beautification process.

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Leaders like Capital One’s Heather Winkle, Philips Experience Design’s Nathan Weyer, and D-Ford Learning’s Shel Kimen understand that design and business inform each other. As they bring world-changing business strategies and fresh vision to organizational leadership, design professionals like Winkle, Weyer, and Kimen promote a two-way dialogue.

“Design and business leaders are equally responsible for the quality and alignment of internal needs with external expectations,” says Heather Winkle, Head of Design at Capital One. “When decision-makers are able to connect these perspectives as a unified force, and do it in a way that rises above organizational constructs, that’s when innovation really flourishes.”

THE SIX CORE SKILLS

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The ID report explores how design and business leaders can collaborate to form a pathway from organizational intent to effect by leveraging six core skills from design’s toolkit: storytelling, prototyping, foresight, facilitation, collaboration, and systems thinking. These skills, when directed toward the realization of strategic vision, at once support internal alignment and incorporate customer needs, expectations, and experience.

At the moment, executive leaders know that design belongs in the organization. But they don’t know how to make the most of it. Maximizing the value of design in an organization depends on leaders recognizing design’s strategic and operational value, and structuring their organizations to harness that value.

Philips Experience Design Chief Operating Officer Nathan Weyer notes, “Organizations need to embrace design as a central element of their strategy, making it a dedicated role on the leadership team with resources aligned behind it. C-suites that also elevate empathy for both internal and external stakeholders will see more success over time.”

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The current organizational structure and strategic process of most companies hinders the integrated, systems-level role that design must possess to influence strategy at the right time and at the highest levels. But with some guidance from the ID report, design and business professionals together can champion an integrated vision.

“Many companies are already proving that putting design as a strategic asset can accelerate both operational and consumer targets,” says Shel Kimen, Director at D-Ford, Ford’s Human Centered Design organization. “Whether these changes represent a fundamental shift for these organizations is still to be seen. But my experience tells me that not only is success achievable, it’s also scalable even across the most layered of organizations.”

To learn more about design’s importance to business, download The IIT Institute of Design’s 2020 Report, “Lead with Purpose: Design’s Central Role in Realizing Executive Vision” which is funded through a collaborative effort by Capital One, Google, Ford, Philips, Salesforce, and VMLY&R.