Why hire a Chief Design Officer?

By Steve Lawrence

Often cited with redefining the digital age, there’s no doubt Apple revolutionised the way people digitally consume and communicate

This can be attributed to many factors: disruptive technology, fantastic user experience, simplicity of use – but one underpins them all: Apple put design thinking at the centre of their business.  Moving on nearly 15 years from the first launch of the iPod, the impact of this thinking is still apparent. Apple, Johnson & Johnson, PepsiCo and Phillips have all appointed a Chief Design Officers to their board – and they’re not on their own.

From Mad Men to Chief Marketing Officer

When Chief Marketing Officers first began to appear in boardrooms over 25 years ago, it was indicative of not only the change in how companies communicate with their customers, but also response to how the consumers were behaving on a fundamental level.  What they were buying, where they were buying it and how frequently.  The rise of consumerism and the increase of marketing channels available meant the way products and services were marketed and sold needed to evolve.  We are seeing a similar shift right now.  The introduction of a design role at the board level is a corporate recognition of a change in consumer behaviour and landscape (above the line and digital), and what is needed for a company to differentiate itself from the white noise of a myriad of competitors.

It’s also an acknowledgement that the multichannel marketing experience is not only here for good, but becoming infinitely complex with every passing year.

Design: the differentiator in a crowded digital age

As market places become ever more crowded, and competition for new custom, and to retain existing market share is fierce, design is becoming the primary differentiator for more and more businesses.  “There is intense competition, and anybody can design a decent product. They can’t all design outstanding products. So, design is the differentiator.” –  CEO, Pentland Brands plc.  Design thinking also means taking time to consider how your marketing spend integrates with your wider multichannel activities, creating the most elegant solution to your most pressing marketing problems.

Focus on solutions, not problems

Consider your customer. Think about the barrage of advertising, marketing and branding white noise that they are deluged with on a day to day basis, whether it’s on their commute to work, while surfing the net or even while out for a meal.  There are literally 1,000s of conflicting brands and messages fighting for a moment’s consideration. In fact, numbers from Yankelvich Research and quoted by the New York times state between 3,000 and 20,000 messages PER DAY!  A Chief Design Officer brings a unique way of thinking, using critical and creative thinking to bring focus to nebulous ideas and present well thought out solutions to real world business problems.  Their understanding of the customer and the project in hand is often uncluttered by departmental politics and distractions – allowing them to approach from a solution focused perspective.

Do you need a chief design officer?

The case for a Chief Design Officer is compelling, but what if that’s not a possibility for your business?  The solution is to build a partnership with key creatives who understand your business and use their skill set to bring the benefits of design thinking to elevate you above the competition.  This is especially true in the event business.  The exhibition hall is filled to the i-beams with your competition trying their hardest to make their product resonate with their creative event concepts – but have they simply gone for something visually appealing; Or have they understood your business objectives and used design thinking to create something memorable and innovative to engage visitors?  Design thinking solves real world business problems. Consider the large conglomerate with multiple subsidiaries; each with their own branding and share of the market space.  How can a creative event concept help solve the problem of multiple brands fighting for space and exposure within a single exhibition or trade show stand or booth?

Can you afford an average design?

Great design is never an afterthought, it’s the cornerstone of how you communicate your understanding of your customers and relay your value proposition to them. It’s your secret weapon to improve visitor engagement, the great differentiator.  Great design and the integration of the Chief Design Officer to the C-Suite is a response to a fundamental shift in your customer’s behaviour.

Apple realised it – have you?