In-house Issues: Bottom-up Top-down

At no time in the past decade have designers been in a better position to raise their stature and involvement in their host companies than this moment. A combination of economic conditions, academic discussion and c-level open-mindedness have opened a door, however slightly, for the design community to make the case for the true value they have the potential to bring to organizations in all of the public, private and educational spheres.

As the hyper-competitive global marketplace turns even the most innovative products and services into commodities, an increasing emphasis and value has been been placed on customization and individualization of these same products and services. Companies are realizing that design is one of the most cost-effective and powerful means of achieving profitable differentiation.

At the same time, respected academics and authors who hold sway in the business community are espousing the benefits of design thinking – the application of design methodology to strategic business challenges and operations. Roger Martin, Bob Sutton and Grant McCracken are just a few of the more visible thought leaders making this case to the suits.

Perhaps, most importantly, the movers and shakers in the business world are seriously considering the theories and analysis that the academics are forwarding. Regardless of whether this open-mindedness is being driven by desperation or the result of a more progressive business education, there is a willingness to adopt, dare I say, embrace a more design-centric business philosophy.

So where does that leave the design community? The real possibility that c-level executives may come knocking on our cubicle doors with high expectations of what we have to offer our companies makes it imperative that we hone our understanding of our potential and our ability to powerfully articulate it.

Participating in this and other blogs is just one of many steps to take in preparation for that invitation to sit at the mythical table. Reading books by the previously mentioned academics along with those by journalists such as Daniel Pink, Malcolm Gladwell and Tim Brown is yet another path to preparedness.

Almost any of the online TED videos will offer up valuable insights into innovative right-brain thinking paradigms. Attending these types of conferences (along with the obvious HOW and AIGA events) is a valuable pursuit as well. And taking continuing education classes is the most obvious of your options.

Whatever your plan is, follow through on it. The greatest inexcusable tragedy would be to be caught mute and flatfooted when your CEO invites you out to lunch to discuss this thing called design.