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.

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.”

“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.


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.”

“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.

Full article linked here.