Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Designers invade the executive suite.

Last year Advertising Age published an article I wrote about the lessons car companies can learn from the iPhone. One of the suggestions I made was to elevate designers to a greater leadership role.

Two reasons why I wrote this: First, car companies are industrial design firms at their core. Second, design-led thinking is a business strategy, not simply an exercise in visual packaging. Design-led thinking forces a company to have a more intimate understanding of their customers and their interactions with the brand, and then be very reductive in creating a more valuable experience.

I didn't think it would ever happen. But it has. Twice. In Detroit.

Last month General Motors promoted designer Bryan Nesbitt to be General Manager of its Cadillac Division. That's unheard of. Until, of course, this week when Chrysler promoted Ralph Gilles to be President of its Dodge Car unit. This is a bold and long-overdue move. I'm eager to see what unfolds.

The clearest perspective on design as a business strategy comes from David Butler, Coke's VP of Global Design. "Here, it's about creating more value. How do we sell more of something? How do we improve the experience to make more money and create a sustainable planet? We're leveraging design to drive innovation and win at the point of sale...full stop." His profile in October's Fast Company is an instructive read.

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