top of page
  • Writer's pictureAnupama

Chief Design Officers - All There Is To Know About Them

It is no coincidence that Philips, Hyundai, Pepsico and a range of other major corporations announced the appointments of Chief Design Officers (CDOs), since Apple’s valuation started shooting higher every year. Not just that, companies also started announcing major investment in design capabilities.

In 2016, Cognizant acquired Idea Couture, a privately held design-thinking firm. Similarly, IBM announced a $100 M investment with an aim to hire 1000 designers across the global workforce by 2018. Young companies like AirBnB and Uber which are digital in their foundation, have been fueled by well-thought-out service offerings and good to great user experience.

Also, the marketing paradigm has shifted from ‘making people want things’ to ‘making things people want’ and companies realize that design will now be an important part of their innovation strategy. Hence, the case for hiring CDOs.

Is India Inc. Ready to Hire Chief Design Officers Though?

Now that a lot of global companies have started to actively integrate design-thinking into business at the top, they realize that the best way to do it is to hire a CDO and also that these people need to be capable of balancing the fine line between creativity and business sensibility.

The ability and the magic of the CDO lies in the ability to balance qualitative and quantitative factors together. They need to not only have the sensitivity to recognize when a design is good and when it isn’t good enough; they also need to understand the impact it will have on not just the finances, but the brand of the company and more importantly the customers themselves.

More importantly, they need to have the power to write it off despite what it costs the business.

This means that a CDO has to be capable of enrolling the board with them, on the qualitative aspects beyond the quantitative considerations, because that’s what usually matters at the board level. Most CDOs and Design Directors feel at times, that being on the board gets in the way of addressing the actual design problems of the business. That is why design leaders have to be wide ranging and fast moving. In this sense, the CDOs concur with the qualities of experimenters, as Clayton Christensen speaks of innovators in his books.

The CDOs also need to be capable of reigning it in and veto their own decisions. For this, the CDO needs both discovery and delivery skills, so that there is innovation as well as safe space. They also need to be astute because it’s possible to fall into the trap of treating every design problem as a strategic problem.

Understanding that the impact of the CDO may have a short shelf-life and yet be willing to step into that role is something that most CDOs believe needs a cultural alignment. While external experts may have fresh ideas, someone who has been ranked up internally will, with external ‘support’ has more potential of creating wonders, because the change that they bring will be long-term and sustainable.

It is a CDO who can spearhead disruption not just in your industry, but also your company, should there be a need. Add to it, since the CDO is also a person with astute business sense, they will be able to treat your business as if they are encountering it for the first time. They will understand what will happen in the market next and not what the business wishes, should happen.

A CDO has the ability to act as a conduit between your business and the marketplace. This person cannot belong to a generation of people who are adept at only building on the work of their forebearers. Instead this person has empathy, creative sensibility, diplomatic ability to enrol and inspires others and patience. As a result, they are able to lead your company and people with the much-needed futuristic vision.

A great CDO understands and inspires to make innovation everyone’s job.

A good CDO will push you out of your comfort, will have the ability to question the status quo, will be blunt and brutal when it comes to anticipating market trends, and yet will be humble enough to bring in external experts from time to time. They will be a catalyst to innovation and will be key to value creation, process as well as product innovation, sustainability and problem solving.

An effective CDO will be versatile, strategic in mindset, have a wide spectrum of experience, will be a cultural fit and an awesome storyteller. They will not only align with the board and shareholders but will also be bold enough to drive a culture of innovation.

Is your business ready to hire a great CDO yet?

bottom of page