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We know design matters to business—here’s how to leverage it

Helping organizations bridge the gap between intent and fully realized effect

We know design matters to business—here’s how to leverage it

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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Over the past several years, companies like 3M, Hyundai Motors, Philips, Salesforce, and PepsiCo have appointed Chief Design Officers to their leadership teams. Much as the rise of Chief Financial Officers in the 1980s and Chief Marketing Officers in the 1990s signaled the expanding influence of their trades within corporations and organizations, the growing number of CDOs during the 2000s and 2010s reflect wide recognition of design’s ascendance in business.

Alongside the rise of executive design leadership, a number of reports on design’s business value have begun rippling through the business community. For example, McKinsey’s report, “The Business Value of Design,” finally began cracking the nut of design’s quantifiable impact on revenue and growth, while Invision’s Design Maturity Index offered a framework to qualify the maturity of a design function in a wide swath of organizations.

It’s no longer a question of why design matters to organizations, but how it can be leveraged to move them forward. A report from IIT Institute of Design (ID) seeks to answer just that.

Completed by ID faculty and graduate researchers and with the support of industry partners, the 2020 ID report, “Lead with Purpose: Design’s Central Role in Realizing Executive Vision,” drew on the expertise of over 50 design and business professionals.

The study’s key finding: The challenges organizations face when realizing visionary goals can be addressed by an integrated design function. Researchers found that design can bridge the gap between purpose, or intent, and fully-realized effect—a process that the report refers to as the “Intent-to-Effect Pathway.”

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“Lead with Purpose…” homes in on six skills inherent to the design discipline that help bring vision to fruition. Those core skills include: storytelling, prototyping, foresight, facilitation, collaboration, and systems thinking.

The six key design skills promote alignment across functions and levels, as well as produce clearer guidelines to hand down when objectives may be ambiguous and sweeping. Design offers concrete tools to manage, overcome, and ultimately thrive in the face of ambiguity.

“Designers dispel ambiguity through concrete things like infographics, [user] stories, or insights boiled down to a sentence,” explains one of the report’s respondents.

MOVING FROM VISION TO EXECUTION

But making concepts tangible is just the beginning. Using foresight to anticipate industry demands, deploying collaborative skills to reconcile needs across business units and prototyping possible solutions—all are critical to taking an organization from vision to execution.

As another respondent put it, “a mature design organization leverages design to support its other functions. It’s not design as a service. It’s design as collaboration.”

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“Lead with Purpose…” proposes four design-specific roles to facilitate action along the Intent-to-Effect Pathway. Depending on the size and structure of an organization, those roles may include: an executive vision partner; a vision interpreter; an action aligner; and producers.

An “Executive Vision Partner” would be a business-savvy design leader who collaborates with executive leadership to articulate its vision into a defined pathway for success. These are roles we can already see embodied in the rise of the Chief Design Officer.

Working closely with the Executive Vision Partner would be the Vision Interpreter, a strategic design leader skilled at translating vision into actionable steps. The Vision Interpreter, the report says, has the foresight to anticipate possible outcomes and unintended consequences of the conceptual pathway that others might miss.

BRINGING THE PLAN TO LIFE

As the work gets more granular, Action Aligners are needed to serve as team leaders, helping bring the vision and plan of the Executive Vision Partner and Vision Interpreter to life. They do so by leading designers and cross-functional teams, both internal and external, enabling them to work together and providing their own unique and valuable contributions.

Producers are the designers we generally recognize today. They make concepts and ideas reality. Their expertise is in specific design disciplines, from UX and UI to communication design and design research. With these skills, they make the vision of the organization tangible through its products, services, and messages.

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In specifying the roles and skills that comprise the Intent-to-Effect Pathway, “Lead with Purpose…” makes clear that design leadership shouldn’t start and end at the C-suite. Rather, design is helping to steward the Intent-to-Effect Pathway across the entire spectrum of the organization.

“I would define design maturity as how well and entrenched designers are within all aspects of the business,” said one respondent.

So where do businesses go from here? While the report is clear that each industry has nuanced challenges to contend with, organizational structure can integrate design’s function to harness its power. Moving forward, design leaders, designers, and their internal business partners will need to work together to define design’s place in an organization and start realizing design’s full potential.

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.

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