There’s an interesting article on BuisnessWeek’s site titled Wanted: VPs of Design.
Today more companies are welcoming designers to the executive level. “There’s been a big change in the number of VPs of design compared with just three years ago,” says Peter Lawrence, director of the Boston-based Corporate Design Foundation. IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Johnson & Johnson have all appointed vice-presidents of design in the past couple of years; Nike, Apple, and other design-savvy companies have recognized design at the executive level for much longer.
The article goes on to discuss the training that designers need to move into such management positions—the lack of it at the collegiate level, and what is being offered on-the-job to make up for it.
The message is loud and clear that design is gaining a more prominent role in business, not only in terms of process, but in management and corporate strategy as well.
It was not all that long ago that I read GK VanPatter’s discussion with Peter Merholz (Ladder of Fire) in which VanPatter paints a foreboding landscape of design’s role in business (or lack thereof). He talks about “Paradox 3”, his label for the case in which usurpers from other disciplines take over the reigns of design management.
It is essentially a virus that continues to take its toll on the design community, penetrating and now residing in many of our institutions. Paradox 3 is already so HUGE that I believe the future of designers participating in design at significant intersection points is already in serious peril. Frankly, it is so widespread that I am not sure if designers can ever wrestle back their own community. There are days when I see things going on that make me think it is already gone.
VanPatter seems to promote a militant stance in which designers should turn the tables and take the board room by force.
If that territory is presently occupied by others, so be it. The future of design leadership absolutely has to be proactive and expansive. Today designers are adapting their toolsets and their models to engage all kinds of organizational challenges that have been historically the terrain of other professionals including our friends who went to business school. So be it. We have made great efforts to invite and include others to the design party. In the same spirit, its time now to get inviting ourselves to other parties.
Whether we call it cross pollination, invasion or something else, designers have to learn that game too, and we have to learn it better and faster then those arriving in our space.
I think it’s clear that the situation isn’t as bleak as VanPatter paints it. BusinessWeek is publishing articles like the one mentioned above on a regular basis. Designers don’t need a battle plan. By its very nature, design is making its value known, and those who know how best to wield it are in a position to capitalize on the opportunities presented, should they desire to do so.