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Looking for this year's Masters of Design?

The Power of Design

In October 2003, several hundred graphic designers gathered in Vancouver for the American Institute of Graphic Arts' biennial conference. For three days, they argued, debated, and fulminated over what seemed a daunting question: How could they make the world -- especially the business world -- understand the power of design? Today, that challenge seems quaint, even antiquated. If anything, companies now face the question's inverse: How can you not see the power of design?

Look around you: The evidence of design's power is everywhere. It's apparent in the mere fact that the bar has been raised. Customers expect, even demand, more from the design of everything they buy. As Walter Herbst, CEO of the product-design firm Herbst LaZar Bell, has said, "Good design is not good enough anymore." Companies as varied as Adobe, Nokia, Toyota, and Virgin understand that great design is a prerequisite for turning consumers into customers. Whether it's software or sippy cups, when something works right, looks right, and feels right, it sparks an emotional connection. People come to love it and loyalty soon follows, along with the three Rs: repurchase, reuse, and recommendations -- benefits that fall directly to the bottom line. Such is the power of design.

Design's power became even more evident as we assembled our second annual report on the Masters of Design -- the innovators, instigators, and risk takers who are the force behind design's growing influence. Through them, we see how design is shaping the way we communicate and educate; we see how it's a catalyst for reinventing cities and reimagining nonprofits. We see also how companies such as Whirlpool are leveraging design as a competitive weapon -- and stealing market share from formidable foes. And in this year's most far-reaching development, we see how companies like Procter & Gamble and Samsung are using design thinking to recast their strategic thinking. As Ideo CEO Tim Brown puts it, "Where you innovate, how you innovate, and what you innovate are design problems. When you bring design thinking into that strategic discussion, you introduce a powerful tool to the purpose of the entire endeavor, which is to grow."

We used some of the key principles of design to create this report. We took a multidisciplinary approach, collaborating with an all-star jury drawn from business, academia, and the design world itself. This custom-made panel put us on the path toward our goal: not only to spotlight great designs but to look beyond demigods like Gehry and Graves to discover new heroes and heroines who define what breakthrough design means today.

Even a quick look at the design world shows that many of today's designers defy easy categorization. They might have expertise in architecture, the graphic arts, or industrial design, but increasingly their work takes in many other fields: animation, anthropology, biology -- just follow the alphabet. That's why we devised five categories that encompass all of the design world and reflect this need to break through old boundaries.

Peak Performers have innovated over the long haul; they are design's leaders and influential thinkers. Impact Players are those who, over the past year or so, have demonstrated design's capacity to shape strategy. Game Changers are the agitators who are transforming the way we think about design. Collaborators are allies from outside the design world who work with designers to reinvent their organizations and even their cities. Next Generation billboards the rising stars who are creating design's future.

Taken together, these 20 masters are rewriting the rules for design and for business. Their accomplishments, failures, and lessons learned have meaning for us all, designers and nondesigners alike. If you are leading a team or company, mapping out a marketing strategy, innovating part of a supply chain, or streamlining a manufacturing operation -- that is, if you are a decision maker facing a problem -- think about this question as you meet our crack problem solvers: What are you and your organization doing to fully seize on design's power and promise?

2005 Winners


Peak Performers

Next Generation

Impact Players

Game Changers

Additional Resources

Design SlideShow
Leading lessons from the front lines of design.
The Public Pulse
They get it -- even if others don't. That's the message from our new survey.
Introducing the six-person, all-star jury -- drawn from academia, business, and design -- who helped select this year's masters.
Mentors' Messages
Design ideas and insights from the six-person, all-star jury -- drawn from academia, business, and design -- who helped select this year's masters.
Ideo's Strategy
In order to do a better job of developing, communicating, and pursuing a strategy, the head of Ideo says, you need to learn to think like a designer. Here's his five-point plan for how to make the leap.
Power at P&G
Your products run for election every day, says Procter & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley. And good design is critical to winning the campaign.
Extra: Designing Innovation
In this extended edited interview transcript, Procter & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley expands on why design is important, how to incorporate it into your organization, and the value of partnerships.
Extra: Signs of Times Square
In a candid conversation with Fast Company, Brian Collins, executive creative director of the Brand Integration Group at Ogilvy & Mather, expands on the team's approach to architecture, marketing, and storytelling.
Extra: Company Builder
Architecture can go beyond buildings -- and embrace branding, community, and teamwork.
Extra: Jones on Design
Whirlpool's design chief Chuck Jones talks to Fast Company about the business case for smart design, the benefits of making customers squirm, and bringing emotion to an emotionless product -- a washing machine.
Extra: Design Revolution
Bruce Mau made a name for himself as a graphic designer. Now he's rejecting that title and taking a more expansive view of design itself.
Product Picks
Who knows better than a top designer what the best-designed products are? We asked our five Masters of Design winners to share their top picks for home, office, and the road.
Faster Talk
Digital-audio players weren't exactly virgin territory when Apple entered the fray in 2001. But the iPod -- with its sublime design, intuitive usability, and unparalleled cool quotient -- set a new standard by which all other MP3 players would be judged. Expanding on the feature that ran in the magazine, six rivals talk about designing their answer to an icon.
More Intelligent Design
You don't have to wear black and have an MFA, or spring for pricey journals, to get the latest insider thinking from the design world. Here, expanding on the feature in the magazine, are seven smart blogs worth following.
June 2005 Issue
More stories about the design of business
Design Resource Center
Columns, features, and discussion